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.

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
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.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Planning Time

This weekend was a wonderful treat. Joe and Kiddo took off for a Cub Scout camping trip and of course, I had to stay home and take care of Milton and Sally Lou. Well, maybe I didn't really have to, but after a few months of homeschooling, it's been great to take a break alone. It was a weekend to visit with friends and relive some of my old life, BC. (You know, Before Child.) My ventures out were delicious and provided me with great conversations with dear friends and food for both sustenance and thought. One friend has her PhD and we always end up having discussions about life and the choices we make in how we live. She mentioned an instruction in the practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, namely the idea that one should plan, each day, one activity which brings the self joy. Ideally, once a day for the person and 2-3 times a week for the family.

Finding joy for a family isn't an easy task, but I do consider this as I sit down to plan the coming week's lessons. One of the very real challenges of homeschooling is building in time to just be and enjoy each other, enjoy the moment. It's all too easy to do school and, at the end of the day, not have a lot left. My goal for each day is about four activities and to keep balance. So, we do things like walking over to the park (fulfilling PE requirement as we go) to do a survey of colors of dogs: "out of all of the dogs we encounter on our walk, how many are white, or tan, or black and white, etc" and then using that information to solve math questions and make a graph. I try to incorporate as much real life in his arithmetic as possible, and if we are being truly honest, I sort of geek out on creating these activities.

But I digress... as I was saying, planning joy into one's day is easier said than done. So, I look for times when he solicits me for my company in what he's doing. Sometimes, we can plan some daytime 'joy' together. No longer constrained by the school calendar, I can do what I damn well please. A couple of weeks ago there was a painting at the Portland Art Museum I really wanted to see before it left. It was a huge painting of cats. Because I used to be a preschool teacher, I suppose I am in the habit of curious observation. It was just as much fun for me to see what interested him (the glass art was the big deal this time) as it was to see the art itself. We had packed a picnic lunch already, yet the Farmer's Market called us and we took time to get a few treats and that night's dinner. He practiced finding the totals for items he wanted (all in his head), what sort of change would he get back on a three dollar item with a five dollar bill, and he practiced doing those transactions on his own. After that, we hit the library and he read for the rest of the afternoon.

This is not a kid who needs to be forced to read.

In fact, I often build our days with little scheduled reading time for him. I start our morning reading aloud to him, and we do also read as we research bats (our bee unit is complete for now; we'll move back to that when we harvest the bees this fall) or look up affixes. Hazel Philosophy here: I love words and the best gift I can give my son is that regard is the tools to decoding language. Prefixes and suffixes are a big part of our summer schooling time... we handle the root words in the moment as the initial word comes up, however, a knowledge of affixes can get you partway there. (This, by the way, is an extension of our Greek mythology study-- many affixes were given to us by the ancient Greeks). With math we work on one new skill a day and review some other, previously-learned ones as well.

Yet, what he also is learning isn't straighforwardly academic. One of the concerns I had regarding conventional school is that he wasn't being given much room to think for himself. Now, I'm not saying this is true for every kid, but a bright little boy with slow processing abilities needs more time to get to the same answer than most of his peers. It also takes longer to learn and understand new skills and techniques, especially for computation and composition. Along with finding a well-scaffolded writing program for him, what has worked for us is going at a slower pace in introducing new information and being able to present information in multiple forms. I would wager my favorite pair of shoes that one big reason kids 'goof off' at school or aren't attentive is that they don't  understand the assignment or what they are supposed to do. The hurried teacher in a larger class may often tell the student to ask a friend or three before asking for help, which is nice in theory, but in practice, some students will think you are bugging them, some students may not undersatnd how to explain the process/instructions and by time we get to number three, I'm sure the student feels daunted and, if we are being honest, probably not great about him or her self as a learner. So, instead of risking more frustration, the child sits at their seat and plays around, does other things, lets themselves be distracted or becomes a distraction.

The end result of this is that the student falls into a habit of not completing work without adult prodding.Thus, one absolute I have for our school is that we complete what we start. At public school, without help to organize himself and get going at school, a lot of work didn't get done, was misplaced or not handed in. I needed a way to help my son help himself; school really did not help him with was time management and admittedly, that would have been hard. He is easily distracted as it is and loves to be with his buddies. Keeping him on task is a lot to ask of any teacher; it's something he has to learn himself.

This means, contrary to popular thinking, that I have to give him control over this. Each morning he has a checklist to complete. Everything is on there, not just learning. He's more involved in helping with daily chores now that I have more time to teach him. Some things--like the oddly folded-but-still-neat clothes-- I let him do his way. Some things, well, you have to do them my way because my way is the right way. (Don't tell me you don't think this too. Of course you do. The Queen of the Castle likes the towels folded a certain way after she's washed them.) Life means doing basic tasks for one's survival. In some families, this means milking cow at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. In our family, it means soaking your dishes after you eat from them, or you know Mom is going to make you wash that crusty oatmeal bowl yourself. Managing his time is his new skill to learn. I allow media time at 3:30, not a minute earlier. That said, I tell him each day "Look at your list. I'm available for instruction until 3, and then you have to work independently." Frankly, I got tired of trying to coax him away from what he was doing--you know, the fun thing-- and being the heavy. So now, he has to be the heavy on himself. No media time until the list is complete. This is where the emphasis on completing work comes in. If it's not done, it's not done.

He is finding different ways to manage this. One afternoon he asked to work for ten minutes and take a break for ten minutes. He found the material demanding and needed to take the breaks, but when he came back, he worked the entire time before the next break. Finding ways for learning or work to be doable for each of us is a life skill. As an adult I have worked at some jobs which were not particularly engaging or demanding, but you have to work to eat, so I did it with my headphones on. Finding ways to endure either tedium or demands is a good coping skill to have in one's back pocket. I hand this responsibility to him knowing he's going to have bumps and failures. We've done well so far, and I know there will also be a day he goes on strike and will be sad when the end of the day rolls around and he can't play his beloved Minecraft. We've created a situation which can motivate while being emotionally safe enough that he's not devastated. Will there likely be tears? Yep. And tears are okay. Often, they are instructive and teach us not to repeat mistakes.

Will we one day return to public school? I cannot say for certain. What I do want, though, is time and situations for him where failure is not penalized, but a learning tool. It's a fact of life that one must complete one's work before leisure and that time commitments have to be met. Better to learn that now than in high school or adulthood, right?

We keep on together, in this dance where he is learning about real life and I am learning as a teacher and we are learning about each other. I've been touched recently at a new level of consideration he has shown for me. Kiddo's perception of himself as a learner is improving, and that is worth every minute of work on my part. Knowing that he can learn, he wants to learn more. His questions become deeper. I am enjoying this time with him, knowing that it is a moment in life which we will grow beyond and leave in the past. Today, rather philosophically, my friend stated "well, if managing his time is all he learns, then that's what he needed to learn." Truer words could not have been spoken, but he-- and I-- are learning more. So much more.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Bee Progress Report

Today we went outside and observed the Mason bees. The Mason bees were flying in and out of their reed tubes where they lived. We noticed the mud in two reed tubes. The female puts pollen and nectar  in a ball together inside the tube and then lays an egg on top of it. (Of course, she has to resist eating it for herself.)  She uses mud or plants or both to block of the entrance to the nest cell. The mud keeps the eggs inside the tubes until they are adults and hatch next spring. The female seals off the tube with mud to protect her eggs.

We also checked how many Mason bees had hatched. Out of our ten bee cocoons, now there is only one unhatched. We planted African daisies for the Mason bees to pollinate. Some other plants in our yard which have pollen for the bees: blueberries bushes, dandelions, the pieris shrubs in the front yard, tulips, and the cherry tree.

(This progress report was a result of a conversation between Kiddo and Mom, consulting "Pollination with Mason Bees by Dr Margriet Dogterom, and lots of dictation and refining)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Kiddo's Mason Bees Progress Report

Kiddo asked to use my blog to post this. You might see little things like this from time to time because A. Mom can control the medium and B. he likes to feel he's sharing his work. 

Hi I am Kiddo and I am going to tell you how to get mason bees ! First make a budget. For example if you go to Portland nursery than your budget will probably look like this. (this was mine.)

Daisies(you plant these for the bees) 4 inch starter size 3.99 
Mason Bees(the actual bees)  price 4.99, box of ten cocoons
Reeds(you put these in the bee house) box of 25, price 8.99
Bee House(where the bees go) price 29.99

  Then you get the mason bees and the other objects you need.Then set them up facing south then wait for the mason bees to hatch!
                                          THE END                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dipping Our Toes In....

Long-term investments are my game. Last year for Christmas, Joe gave me some money to spend on myself and I brought home a big, tall, four-hook birdfeeder pole. For the past couple months, I have enjoyed the show in the backyard. Here's one of my buddies, a bushtit. They travel in groups, are rarely ever seen alone. Safety in numbers, I suppose. Cute as can be and excitement for the cats on cloudy days when they want to stay in.

In any case, one of the things about birdfeeders is that you have to wait for the birds to find it. They rarely just fly over, go 'Hey, lookie here, there's some food in that yard', and stop by. It happens more often than not that one or two birds somehow accidentally discover the goodies and then the other birds -- who are likely observing those first two- go "hey, what's that?" So, we now have a regular group of visitors: the black-capped chickadees, the bushtits, some juncos, and more. It took a while, and yes, I was a little impatient for my favorite avian visitors because you know me, I love my birdies. That said, the long-term investment is my thing. I value long friendships, long-term commitments. When I was a nanny, I toyed with the idea of becoming a doula. Ultimately, though, the idea of working myself out of a job on a regular basis meant a lot of change, and while I have learned that change is okay, as a rule, I try to cultivate consistency and stability. It's no coincidence that most of the families I worked for ended up being jobs over at least a few years.

Last month, after increasing feelings of conventional school not really meeting Kiddo's needs, Joe and talked (and talked and talked...) about the idea of doing something different. It's hard to be in a classroom where instruction happens faster than one can catch. It's hard to be in a classroom where other kids are big distractions for both the students and the teachers. Since our school district has worked to phase out what are typically called 'behavior' classes, there are a lot of children who are not getting their needs met in a standard classroom. Children who have a hard time of life in general, who need smaller groups, sheltering, and nurture from strong and caring teachers. Not as a punishment. Not because these children are bad kids-- they aren't. They are hurting kids. They have holes in their lives somewhere. I know some of their stories and they are heartbreaking. The typical classroom only becomes another hurdle to deal with. Too many children in their space and not enough loving arms to hold them. Teachers are being forced into roles more ideally suited to behavior specialists. Everyone feels the strain. This morning I walked home from drop-off after I'd had to report a full-blown fight between two youngsters on the playground. Things are not getting better for these children.

Kiddo is what one might consider a 'silent struggler'. He's not creating misbehavior, he gets along okay in class with his peers. Yet, when so many other kids are acting out, the fact that he's not keeping up with the instruction goes, in the moment, unnoticed. The rest of the class continues on with learning, and for typical learners who can keep up, this isn't a problem. For atypical learners, this can make them fall further and further behind. Self-esteem is eroded. A child declares himself 'stupid' for not being as fast and fluent as other classmates.

So when Kiddo was able to articulate that school was going 'too fast', I paid attention. Some days at school are good days, where he seems to have things down pat. Off routine, he struggles. In fact, he works so hard on a daily basis to do well at school that when he bumps into challenges, he feels bad about himself.

You would not know that this avid reader, bright-eyed boy was hurting unless you curled up with him as he was falling asleep and entered that magical time of sharing heart secrets. Or saw him wrestle with homework. Or noticed that his work doesn't always appear on the walls in the hallway with the rest of his classmates. You sort of have to be the kid's parent to notice those little things, to have that special time with a child when they drop their guard and share their world with you.

I am fortunate and blessed beyond measure to be my child's mother. We are fortunate and blessed for me to be able to be home during the day. With this little, hurting boy in mind-- a child who loves learning when it is at his own pace, broken down to his understanding--  we have decided to homeschool for fourth grade and see how things shake out. I am starting to dip my toes in already; we have been doing alternative homework for the last three weeks or so. When Kiddo chooses his homework projects, he is fully engaged. He can sit and work for far longer than he typically was able to before. His brain is hooked into his interests, he's learning things more easily because he finds the study interesting.

There are parallels to be noticed here, between myself and my child. It's easy for me to collect and remember the names of birds or plants because I am stimulated by them, fascinated, intrigued. If I see a bird I'm unfamiliar with, the information is searched out with a ferocious intensity to know. The worlds and study of birds and plants have their own esoteric languages, descriptions of attributes, their own rhythm and 'reasoning', as it were. Plants which were historically in cooler parts of the world often have more serrated leaf edges, to maximize the surface area of leaf to collect the most sunlight for photosynthesis. Flamingos are pink because they eat so much shrimp. Hummingbirds make these almost electronic sounds when they call to each other, but it's their notched tails and a speedy drop from the sky and a miraculously fast sudden rise which makes the male hummingbird's mating call.

Because I know these things, the world has become a richer, more amazing place for me to live. I want that richness for Kiddo, and I don't want to have to wait forever for him to get it. There is something so wonderful and yet so fleeting about childhood. My best memories are in the long, silent pauses in my young life. Laying in bed on a snowy night and then looking out the window to discover how bright and white everything is, almost like day. Walking alone and finding mule deer on the lava beds out in the Oregon Desert. Staying awake at night to watch a summer lightning storm and wondering if the light traveled from the sky to the ground or was it the other way around?

So many of those experiences could have been expanded on in study, exploration, and talking to those who knew the subjects better. Unit studies have always been attractive to me. It was primarily my modus operandus as a preschool teacher. We call it Emergent Curriculum-- find what the student is interested in and voila-- so much can be taught through that one theme. One of my favorite unit studies was sparked by the children's curiosity in holes. Holes. What are holes for? What is the purpose of this kind of hole, or that one? Humans and animals create holes for different reasons. My teapot has a hole for the tea to come out. Why do we have those holes in the wall? (electricity, folks!)
People have holes in their bodies, all around their bodies. Why?

Can you see I'm on fire? I'm dipping my toes in and the water is beckoning me. We will start in late June, do year-round homeschool with chunks of time off, shorter school days. Kiddo has already declared he wants to learn about Greek Mythology, so we'll start there, along with reading, writing and arithmetic. I'm assessing resources right now and things look promising. There is more room for choice for Kiddo, more room for him to take necessary breaks. "Scooter around the block two times, then come in for a snack and we'll move on to XYZ".... or doing nature studies at a park, or participating in labs at OMSI.

It's the long pauses, the long game, I want to live in. I know that education is a hot topic, no matter how you slice it. We have a long row to hoe, as it were. I want him to come out of his school years with a love of learning and not the weariness of having to manage himself in a chaotic, distracting environment. We'll still get together with his friends. We'll still see our neighbors and do things with them, just as we always have. It is great that we are so tied in with other loving adults, good friends, people to laugh with and learn from. I'm excited to see where this goes. It's not a reaction, this desire to homeschool, it's a measured response and also what Kiddo wants as well. He's been asking for it since kindergarten. It won't be easy. There will probably be more than a few days I will ask myself "what the heck am I doing?", but hey, parents have those days anyway. Just less, sometimes, if their kid is at school away from them.

I'm ready.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mom-somnia and Being Gentle with Oneself

It's noon on the first dry day in a while. I've unpacked my backpack, full of flavors: red San Marzanos, grown in a greenhouse somewhere; a bright yellow lemon; one white and red-marbled strip of bacon; a golden-brown shallot, the purple flesh tucked beneath the papery outer layer; a jar of artichokes hearts, small and dainty; and cream-colored clams. A demi baguette and a bottle of dry Sauvignon Blanc that the wine steward recommended.

The first dry day in days. Kiddo was so wrapped up in his Minecraft conversation that we made it halfway down the block with his helmet on before we realized he'd left the scooter at home. It is pleasant, overcast, a little warmer. After saying goodbye to him at school, I walked with another mom back to her house, on my way to the store. Needing some time to think, I chose the path of greater length, walking the long way around the neighborhood, daydreaming of some sort of comfort food. The clams seemed just the thing, succulent and rich, with the bacon and shallots to start the flavor, the wine and parsley, tomatoes and some thinly-sliced carrots to add color and richness.

I had what I can only call "mom-somnia" last night. Evening outings always throw off my rhythm and last night's PTA meeting was mentally a bit rigorous. So many things are changing in our school district and the implications are deep, serious, and unknown. I'm on the planning committee for a school event for next week which has a lot of moving parts --and the parts keep shifting. My husband's job is changing and will be more demanding in the evenings as well. Plus a few more changes will be happening in the coming months... somehow all of this, even the good parts, kept me awake.

Read. Lie awake. 12 midnight. Go downstairs like a whisper ghost, have a finger of cognac and write for an hour, then go back up and lie in bed until 2. 2. When I finally fell asleep.

This morning I felt crisp, tired, but not unhappy. When Kiddo said he would 'let me chill out' with my cup of tea and just staring like a zombie at my laptop, I felt grateful. It was a kind gesture. Our morning progressed quietly, kindly. We paced ourselves. The walk around the neighborhood led me to a poem about how God doesn't perform miracles any more because burning bushes bring the fire department, investigations, and some poor soul will be blamed for arson. I see the humor in this and smile to myself-- the idea that not performing miracles is, in itself, a benevolent act, is sweet and understanding. You don't have to feel one way or the other about deities or theology to see the point of the poem. Savoring these words, the walk took me around to the store, where I purchased those delicious, vibrant foods.

It was when I tucked my light raincoat into my backpack around the eggs, the palmier cookies for Kiddo and friends, that I felt such a sense of tenderness. I did this packing lightly, ensuring nothing would be crushed, and felt the slow care of my hands, my whole being wanting to ensure that the fragile items would be loved and respected. Cooks talk about respecting the food one makes. It was also respect for the moment-- my moment-- of tiredness and peace and moving slowly, contemplating my nourishment and world in a loving way. Carefully hoisting my backpack onto my shoulders, I smiled at Natalie, who works there, ringing up the groceries and checking in with her eldest customers. "Oh, don't you look nice! Do you have an appointment today?" she asks a white-haired woman. Her question was genuine, a moment of kindness and connection.

There is no deeper message to this missive. I do not entreat you, dear reader, to be kind to others-- I think that goes without saying. What I do know is that, in being kind to myself, going slowly, I was also able to enjoy and appreciate things with a softness I might not have had if I hadn't taken the slow walk. Listen to what you need. Be loving to yourself when you are running on fumes. Don't fight it. Just let yourself be and listen.... you will know what to do.