Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Monday, December 07, 2015

Blackboard Jungle: Life as an English Teacher

My fellow teachers -- starry-eyed neophytes and grizzled veterans alike -- will appreciate this little exchange:

Me: Anonymous, you've really pulled your grades up!

Anonymous: Yeah, my parents told me they'd buy me a video game.

Me: But doesn't it feel great to achieve?

Anonymous: I really want that video game.

And to Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous, let me just say it's money well spent.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thankful, So Thankful.

Last year John missed 22 days of school. Twenty-one of them were because of fever. For every day of school missed, John was probably sick another two days. That brings days of fever up to about 63. Factor in summer vacation and the total is probably hits the mid 70s. That's a fever nearly every five days for a year times seven years -- plus chills, headache, sore throat, vomiting.

John's fevers started when he was around a year old. He'd be fine; he'd be shivering; he'd be running a fever over 104.

The picture above was taken on John's sixth birthday at Pelee Island. I think that was the trip that set a new record -- five days of fevers, including one that hit 104.7.

John's last fever was in July. It lasted 12 hours instead of the usual three days. 

 He's been fever-free ever since. And we're so thankful because we'd rather see this:

Than this:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving Fun

My favorite Thanksgiving craft. My only Thanksgiving craft. One of my favorite pictures of that rascal John.

  • 16 chocolate covered cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)
  • 1 tube orange frosting with piping tips
  • 16 small peanut butter cups
  1. Place cookies on work surface. Place a dollop of icing in center of each to hold peanut butter cups in place.
  2. Place peanut butter cups upside down on frosting. Press gently.
  3. Using a round piping tip, draw the hat band and buckle. Let frosting set before storing.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When A Proud Luddite Meets Maria Montessori


Luddite: A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16); a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

I am a self-confessed Luddite -- a dumb phone carrying, number two pencil wielding, video game eschewing, Kindle scoffing anachronism.

That's me.

A Luddite.

And happy to be so.

Except for the dumb phone. Which failed me time and again and frog-marched me -- reluctant and dragging my feet -- into the world of Smart Phones.

A friend told me a week or two ago about a younger child of hers who is struggling in school in much the same way that one of mine struggled in school. Like every good mother, she took a deep breath, dabbed her eyes, and logged on to Amazon hoping that a solution for all that ails would arrive on her doorsteps in two days, free shipping.

Been there, surfed that, placed the order.

She mentioned getting a few educational Leap Frog apps.

Now, you can't say this to a Luddite. Or to a Montessorian. Or to an English teacher.

It's nails on a chalkboard -- not to be confused with a dry erase marker on a smart-board -- to people who seize a low tech solution at every turn.

Let me digress for a moment. The further I get into this parenting gig, the less willing I am to put myself out there on any issue. I posted my little bit about children who struggle to read. No sooner had I hit "publish" then I began to think: What in the world are you doing proffering an opinion on this subject? What makes you an expert? Why would anyone care what you think? Like Sergeant Schultz, my mantra is, "I know nothing . . . nothing!"

With that disclaimer in mind, I offer this thought: What middle class American kid needs more screen time?

Kids -- mine, yours, nearly everyone's -- need less screen time.

Let's pull the plug, let's toss the batteries, and let's pull out the stuff. Stuff. Yes, stuff. Real stuff. Pick it up, touch it, chew on it, run your fingers over it, stuff.

Maria Montessori -- she must have been a fellow Luddite -- believed in stuff. Real stuff. High quality stuff. Glass. Wood. Metal. She observed that children learn best through doing, not seeing or hearing or doing it through virtual reality. I had a child so adept at on-line baseball game, I once quipped to my husband, "I think he thinks he can play the real game." Seriously. I understood how the line between reality and virtual reality became blurred.

One of Montessori's approaches to learning the alphabet was to use letters made of sandpaper. Run your fingers over them, get the feel of it, real letters.

Even a Luddite like me concedes that some high tech toys are useful. When John began U.S. geography, I bought the puzzle, but I also let him have fun with an on-line game that kept score and had timers and other bells and whistles that added a little motivation. The Internet abounds with free typing tutors that make old school methods look pretty lame. High tech serves a useful purpose.

But then there's this:

Image result for potty chair with ipad holder

I've been talking to my ninth grade English students about persuasive writing. And I tell them to avoid over-emotional language. School uniforms, summer school work, cursive handwriting -- all these may be, in your estimation, bad ideas, but they are not evil. Genocide, I tell them, is evil; school uniforms and cursive are not. The person who promotes penmanship is not Hitler, and the teachers who enforce the uniform policy are not the Gestapo.

That being said, the orange plastic contraption above is nothing short of an atrocity.

Turn off the screens and pull out the stuff.

Fellow Luddites, can I hear an amen?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To My Boy Who Is Now a Man

I would wander weary miles
Would welcome ridicule, my child
To simply see the sunrise of your smile
To see the light behind your eyes,
The happy thought that makes you fly
Yes, I would wander weary miles
To simply see the sunrise of your smile.

Monday, November 16, 2015

When Your Child Struggles to Read

A friend and I were talking about school struggles the other day. Gosh, I have so many thoughts on all this. But time is short, so I'll re-post this oldie with three caveats:

1. Check your child's sight and hearing because all the techniques the Internet has to offer will be for naught if these problems are not addressed.
2. A simple technique you do consistently day after day after day trumps a brilliant plan you pull off sporadically.
3. Don't panic. You will start to panic. Talk yourself down. My boy who struggled big time spent something like six hours reading this weekend. 

From the archives:

John got off to a rough start in kindergarten.

This didn't come as a complete surprise. He's young, he's John, and kindergarten is much harder today than forty years ago.

I taught Tim and Kolbe to read. I bought Teach Your Child To Read and away we went. Thirty lessons into the book, both boys were reading. No sweat.

I didn't try this with John. At three both John's mother and his pre-school teacher wondered if he were color blind. Everything -- from stop signs to bananas -- was "greent". Color-blindness runs in my family, so I wasn't unduly alarmed.

But then John learned his colors. And color-blind people, see, they don't learn their colors with time or effort or anything. Ever. So something else was behind this.

A number of other factors (some being my time and John's temperament) led me to back off and not push.

He started kindergarten, and I started getting concerned phone calls.

To my credit and as clear evidence that I have Come a Long Way, Baby! in the areas of faith, hope, and love, I did not panic. I cried after one phone call. I prayed. Mostly I spent a lot of time thinking through all my Montessori training and perusing Amazon for items that might be helpful.

Ten weeks and a whole lot of money later, here's what we're doing:

1. Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons

Excellent book. Simple and clear instructions.

2. Mommy, Teach Me to Read

This book arrived in my home on a Friday, and just three days later the author, Barbara Curtis, died unexpectedly. Her life's work lives on in books that celebrate children and help families enjoy learning together.

3. Lacing Cards

 As you can see, Ainsley's mastered this skill.

4. Stringing Beads

Great for fine motor skills and patterning.

5. Japanese Water Painting

A huge hit for kids of all ages. Adults love it, too. Buy one and put it in a public area like a kitchen island or the break room in the office. Everyone will enjoy it. And no clean up required!

6. The Bob Books

Ainsley calls these "the blah blah books." Easy, easy first readers designed to build confidence through success. Kolbe HATED these; John loves them.

7. Matching Games

A great memory building game. Lewis Carroll fans will recognize the Cheshire Cat. John calls it The Pressure Cat which cracks me up to no end.

8. Perfection

Fine motor skills and the added fun of the whole board exploding when time runs out.

School has been difficult for John. Is this a problem or an opportunity?

In the long run, this may indeed prove to be a problem. For right now, though, it has given me an opportunity to spend lots more time with John and Ainsley than I would have otherwise. That admission -- that John had to encounter academic problems for me to sit down and string beads with him -- could be a topic for another post (or maybe a book!). Life is fast-paced. Rather than feeling guilty, I'm choosing to be inspired.

Barbara Curtis wrote this:

Look closely at children's activities and you will see a sense of purposefulness, working toward understanding and mastering their small worlds . . .

God gives the child this drive to explore and learn. You see it clearly in the toddler years: learning is what we are made for. It is our drive to learn that causes us to seek to know more about God and the world he created for us. Watch any preschooler learning to peel carrots, write his name, or count his pennies -- you will see a child completely engrossed, a child who isn't learning because he has to, but because he wants to, a child who loves to learn.

Today I'm grateful for a new opportunity to enter into John's small world.

P.S. All these items are available on Amazon. I'm now their favorite customer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What a Mess!

My Mother-in- Law has asked again and again for more pictures of the new house . . . and I fully intend to take them and forward them.

Just as soon as the trim goes up in the laundry room.

And the wainscoting is finished in Ainsley's room.

And I hang a picture and a crucifix in the boys' room.

And finish painting the shutters in the kitchen.




And I'm probably sounding like the house is a catastrophe. For the record, it is not. Let me also point out that I love our house, unfinished projects and all.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Foss recently put together a slide show of household messes. Now that I can do with nary a drop cloth or table-saw.

And my favorite:

Mostly I remember this because it was at the height of the Swine Flu, Strep Throat, Pneumonia bout that seemed like it would neva end.

For the past two months, we've had an elderly friend living with us while she awaited the completion of her permanent home. Evelyn moved early this week, and the house seems a bit empty without her. After the move, a mutual friend of ours texted me and said something like: Thanks so much for having Ev. I often feel I can't have people over if everything isn't perfect. You've been a good example to me. Thank you!

We offered hospitality. We did not offer perfection.

Though I've never reached perfection in terms of the house, when I had one and two children, it seems -- if only in hindsight -- that I came close. Let's just say I maintained a much higher standard than I routinely manage to pull off these days. The reasons are many and varied and involve the usual suspects: time and space and money and energy and personalities and training and lack thereof.

I have many thoughts on hospitality and order and the ancillary topics in between. Right now I'm just amazed I actually wrote something besides a pop quiz on subordinate clauses! I miss writing, and I miss interacting with my internet friends.

To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, I will be back!

And all these pictures sure make me miss my babies, sticky syrup and all.Except for Ainsley in the Vaseline. I really don't miss that.