Sunday, November 28, 2010

The truth about schooling at home...

... you are going to have to get your hands dirty

We got to spend an afternoon up to our elbows in clay. Not that sissy modeling clay that is basically just a step above play doh. The cool stuff that leaves mud under your finger nails no matter how careful you are. That was after spending the morning in the park collecting rocks and leaf specimens. The lesson for the day was making leaf fossils and the boy picked out some great leaves to work with.  Science was never this fun at my school.

Now, if I only knew what kind of trees we got the leaves from.

What is fossil hunting without some dinosaurs?

This week we get to finish up Lian's big social studies project, designing and making a model of his very own country. He has named it Mongoria and it has a little bit of everything. He already has made the sheep to live in the plains and trees for the forests. I guess our hands are going to get a little dirty again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The kindness of strangers

Tonight was the last home football game of the season at our local Jr college. Lian has had a blast this season. He has learned a lot about football. He has learned the rules from Dad. From fellow spectators, he has learned that there all kinds of different ways to say "referee", and he has learned from mom that several are not repeatable by seven year old boys. 

What he is really excited about though are the cheerleaders. The women are vivacious and pretty and fly high in the air. The men are tall and strong and LOUD!!! This week he went prepared with construction paper poms poms and a homemade megaphone that had been decorated to read RCC on the sides to go along with his signature tiger tail. Excitement was high for the game tonight. There won't be anymore home athletic games for us until January. The only dark spot was when we realized that we forgot the camera. The batteries were charged and the card was empty and it was sitting next to the computer being useless. It wasn't a really big deal. I do enjoy taking pics of the boys enjoying the game and while I enjoy posting my pics of game and cheering, it's not like they don't already have half a dozen photographers with much better equipment covering the game.  We decided not to go back home to get it. Home by the way, is less than two minutes away by car but  we were  already really running late.

So we found our seats in the usual section, centered on the field.  The cheerleaders are right in that area too but mostly we sit there for the best view of the band at half time (you know the band is good when no one leaves for food and potty breaks until after the half time show). Usually the boosters sell the programs and the raffle tickets but tonight the cheer and dance squad had members doing it. It was big night for them. They had had a spirit clinic for young kids earlier in the day and the money from the raffle was earmarked for them this week. We had actually tried to get Lian into the clinic since it was open to everyone and mostly for fun, but we couldn't get the $45 payment in time. Lian was excited to show them his pom poms and megaphone. They told him that they saw him each week and loved that he cheered along with them. He has the entire aisle right over the causeway to the locker room, to move around in without disturbing others and he spends each game with arms flailing and voice screeching all the cheers . He was flying high off of that praise for the whole first quarter and he cheered louder than ever. In the second quarter the kids from the clinic were taken onto the field to cheer with the squad. It was the big payoff for taking part in the clinic. They were absolutely adorable. Then two of the cheerleaders  came up to the stands and asked if they could take Lian down to the field too. They let him use their megaphone, which is almost as tall as he was. He had one of the guys helping him call the cheers and at different times was lifted onto tall shoulders to shout it out loud. He also got to stand next to the dancer he has totally been in love with since he first saw her at the tailgate party at the first home game. 

What a time to have forgotten the camera. It was enough to know I left it at home, all the while being reminded of it by that section's usual fans who kept asking me if I was getting pictures. Even they thought it was odd I didn't have my camera in hand. Doh! Finally, some nice young man behind us took a pic with his phone and texted it to me.

 So for the kindness of strangers I am thankful. I am thankful to the nice young ladies who came up and asked Lian to join them and the rest of the sweet cheerleaders who helped him through the cheers he hadn't learned, like the other kids, and who were willing to let him show his natural enthusiasm and endure his propensity for endless chatter. Also, for the patient football fans who put up with Lian's incessant cheering through each home game when he is usually the youngest child there and then put up with his fussiness when the over stimulation of the game finally over takes him. All of these photos from previous games are great, but I am really thankful for the awesome young man who took the only picture record we will have of this event in my son's life that he describes as better than "one hundred Halloweens combinded".

Oh yeah, the team totally won the the game. We are now 8-1 and I do believe we won our division tonight. Go Tigers!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crisis Averted. Whew!

Is there anything more heart wrenching than a child's tears for a lost friend? Our home went on emergency alert tonight. Fluffy was missing. This was first brought to my attention this afternoon. A quick search of the usual spots turned up nothing and with hours to bed I convinced the boy that she would turn up in time to tuck him in.  Then bedtime arrived and no playful puppy. Once again we hit all the usual spots and then took to shaking out blankets and moving pillows. Finally we emptied out toy boxes and checked the bottom of closets. Nothing. Then the light bulb went off. We went with dad to the store as a break from lessons today. We didn't get out of the car while he ran in to fill water bottles but The Fluffinator did come along for the ride. We felt sure that she was sitting in the car waiting to be brought inside. The hope that had him flying out to the car turned to abject despair when once again the search turned up no pup. 

  Fluffy has been top dog for almost a year now but really is only the latest of best stuffed buds and while the others have been promoted to the bedroom security team, they are all within reach and sight at all times in their various posts on the toy boxes and shelves around the room. I pointed out that any one (or even all) of them would be happy to fill in for the night. I was met with the quivering chin and huge tear drops of a seven year old who has almost grown past the need for bedtime buddies but still needs to cling to that last bastion of security. His head nodded yes, my idea was a good one, but the shudders of suppressed despair spoke volumes, inspiring dad to immediately drop what he was doing to join the search party. Our boy needed his bud.  

We gathered in the living room to brain storm the places we hadn't looked yet. Obviously we hadn't looked everywhere because we hadn't found her. Unless she had run off (Yes, Toy Story was running through my head), she had to be here. Another search of all possible places the boy had been during the afternoon, turned up nothing. Then just as we were beginning the conciliatory phrases that would brace our son for a night spent cuddling a penguin instead of a pooch, I saw it.

 A patch of shaggy brown fur poking from behind the couch. (Hadn't I already looked there a hundred times?)

 Further investigation identified the patch of scraggly fur as a leg and attached to the leg were other legs and a body and head of matching matted beige and brown fur. Fluffy had slipped between the couch arm and the wall at some point during the day. She was wedged in pretty tight.  With Toy Story still fresh in my mind, I could just see her straining to stick her scraggly paw toward the light in a desperate attempt to get our attention. I could hear her whimper softly,

 "Please don't abandon me, you are so close and I really need to snuggle with my boy. I have had a really rough day!"

 Crisis averted indeed! 

A pup rescued from the oblivion of out of sight out of mind and a boy peacefully sleeping with pup in full cuddle mode. After this scare, he probably won't be giving her up anytime soon. I can't really complain though. I have boxes of stuffed animals in storage dating back to my own childhood. Standing guard over the lot of them, much like he guarded my bed each night for the many years, until overwhelming need for repairs made him retire, is Shaggy, my stuffed sheep dog puppy.


Ninja Side Kick

Wizard Buds

Thursday, October 21, 2010

He is reading to me

This is one of my favorite pictures of my son. He is just a few months past three here. But he is doing his favorite thing in the world, reading to one of his friends. 

No, he isn't actually reading. Mostly he would choose a book and then sit down with his buddy du jour and babble about the pictures, or the colors or point out letters. He has the lecture demeanor of a Ivy League professor when he is on a roll, and none of his stuffed friends have escaped his monologues. These days he lectures on plate tectonics or volcanoes on Mars but in those days he was just happy to point out an A. Throughout his preschool years, books remained his favorite toys. Always he would choose a book over even the most sensational light up, noise making toy.  

Then, just before his fifth birthday, he started kindergarten. The child who begged me to teach him to write at the age of three, stopped writing. His art which often included waterfalls, spaceships and forests of trees with bright fully developed color schemes, suddenly were again stick figures and scribbles in monochromatic colors. Sketch books, which had been a common request were no longer asked for, no longer noticed when we were out shopping. His books, lovingly chosen, began to gather dust. Every page of school work, even things he had been doing for years, became a fight to get finished. I have chronicled in other posts the issues we had with his education and his hellish kindergarten year, so I won't go into that here. 

There is very little more frustrating for a parent than knowing your child is fully capable, has all the necessary skills and just won't do it. What is worse is not knowing if the reason he won't is because he is just lazy or because he honestly thinks he can't do it. I chose to believe the latter and pushed through the battles of the last school year on that belief. Luckily his teachers agreed with me. Nothing in all their interactions with him said laziness to them. He did not come off as an apathetic child, but rather a child with an enthusiasm for learning that was completely contrary with his lack of willingness to try. I have often caught him reading. Labels on food cans at the grocery store, or street signs or the synopsis of a television program. Still if you were to ask him to read the word he just said he would insist that he was not able to. It's enough to drive a parent to baldness.

Through his online school he has been able to put the focus on his school work and take the spotlight off his behavior issues, quirks and tics. He made all A's last year. I'll tell you though, I never looked forward to summer more. Every lesson was a struggle for us. That was the rub. If he struggled and only pulled in C's I would have been happy. I always had classes I busted my butt for and couldn't pull the grades. But he always came out shining in the end. The skill was there. It was getting him to act on that skill that was the struggle.

Slowly he has begun to come back to us. The art came first. Bolstered by actual art lessons and projects for school, he has regained the confidence to experiment and relearned the enjoyment of putting a pencil or a crayon to paper and seeing what will come out of it. He even writes for fun now. Not very well. Often it's phonetic, barely legible and well below grade level but he WRITES. Recently he has even combined those actions as he has developed a love of making comic books. I have dozens of science journals chronicling the moons phases or text books about rocks or schematics for new and improved iron man suits in his art cabinet.  Lately sketch books have been on the weekly grocery request list. He really does fill them up that fast. His art is once again full figured people and animals with texture and detailed vehicles and buildings.

Then, out of the blue, he read to me. He picked up a book he hasn't touched voluntarily in more time than I care to admit and he read the book to me cover to cover. Sure, it was Hop on Pop. Again, well below grade level and far below what he actually is capable of, but... He didn't whine or fidget. He was surprised when the last page of the book turned. I held my celebration in check, because I still didn't know what the school day would bring. Would he read his assignment to me? Would give me the usual grief about vocabulary and writing as he did for hours every single day.
The truth is, he didn't. He was actually through almost the entire school day, achieved in record time, before he started to fuss about hating to write and not knowing how to read his text book. A major victory, I thought. That is, until later that evening when he brought out another book and crawled into my lap and read to me. Cover to cover. Something that even the promise of owning his very own video camera hasn't been able to induce in recent months.

 I pulled him out of the public school system that it not only failed to teach him forward but was responsible for his regress. I didn't think I could do better than a trained teacher so I chose a program for him that incorporated teachers I could fall back on. I wish I could take full credit for his success, after all I am the one who trudges through the assignments with him each day. The one who bears the brunt of his daily meltdowns over the simplest tasks, but I did what any parent should. I explained to his teacher what I observed about his study habits. She made it clear to him that she would grade him hard and expected much from him. She found him a class, once a week to tutor him in reading and writing skills.  Then she found him a website where he could read full sized books, with tools for listening to the words and quizzes at the end. Much like, which I love for reading help, but longer more scholastic type books with a wider subject base. His school also uses something they call study island to teach and test basic skills either in a test format or in game format. 

Most of the credit goes to my son. He asked to use the Wii tonight. He had a mostly great day through school and it was well before the nightly cut off time so, I let him. Did he pull out his wii sports or that stupid lightsaber duel thing? Nope. I found him on the internet channel reading from his books website. In fact he read not one, but seven books. Then just for kicks he pulled out his journal and started writing the stories down in there. There is no substitute for just doing it. Whether he finally heard me when I pointed out it gets easier with practice or the curiosity factor finally just got the better of him, I don't care. He IS doing it.

This is my kid we are talking about here. I know that tomorrow morning when he has to record the reading passage to be graded by his teacher, that he will be in tears long before we get it finished. I know he will insist that he doesn't know the words and can't make out the sounds. I have no doubt that we will continue to struggle with this long into the school year and maybe beyond. But I can't help but be proud of him right now. My baby is back. The child who loved learning for the sake of learning. The one who made me teach him how make the alphabet because he wanted to write letters to his granny. I am certain that the stuffed animals he set in rows on the floor in front of television, (so they could see the pictures) enjoy being read to as much as I do.  What a time to have a camera with dead batteries. What a picture that would have made.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On our Summer Vacation, we went to Mars.

Lian The Explorer in 2008
It's no secret that Mars is a siren song for my son. He soaks up knowledge about the red planet like a sponge. I love that there is so much information available for him to search. When I was his age The Martian Chronicles had taken over the American imagination and artist interpretations were the only way to view the surface of the planet. He has seen actual photos of the surface and is excited to learn that minerals have been found, that when found on Earth, point to water and even prehistoric life. We have enjoyed following the Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Twitter and Facebook can be great resources for this. We are right there when Oppy comes across another great find and we welled up with tears when Spirit had to be turned off, for her protection, while scientists and engineers on Earth think of a way to free her from the sand pit in which she is mired. We followed right along as Phoenix sent back wonderful data to unravel even more secrets.

In or around 2030, there are plans for a manned flight to Mars. You can bet my Munchkin, who will be just about the right age then, wants to be on that mission. He may have to wait 20 years to step foot on the surface of Mars but that doesn't mean he can't visit now. 

In this economy, going on a family vacation often requires a major financial sacrifice. That would be why staycations are so popular. these days.  Virtual Connections, the blog from my son's school, posted a great article on how to use the Information Superhighway to give new meaning to the term "Staycation". One day, last week, my family visited Mars. It was fascinating. Even though we couldn't actually feel the red dust blowing on our faces it didn't stop us from imagining that we could. 

Did you know that Google Earth offers maps of Mars and the Moon? We were surprised as well. When we found out we couldn't wait to explore them. We spent hours calling up names that have become so familiar to us in the last few years. Gusev, Victoria, Meridiani, Olympus Mons. If you are familiar with the tools GE offers, they aren't missing on Mars. The Mars travel guide offers information about areas on the planet and there are plenty of photos to check out.

We finished the trip off with a swing by the moon on the way home. It was exciting to see astronaut foot prints and the original landing site.  It's there, complete with a mock up lander. How touristy can you get?

There are also under sea maps available on Google Earth. That will be fun to explore. We can't wait.

All screenshots are taken from Google Earth

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