Monday, December 5, 2011

Hitting Our Stride

I finally feel like Iris and I are hitting our stride and it only took us three months to get here! Ha! Ah, well. Better than not getting here at all, right? I think I owe a lot of that to our new curriculum. Instead of spending time thinking/worrying/planning we just work on lessons and (mostly) have fun. Iris is speeding through most of the lessons and many days I find myself doubling up on certain things, like our reading comprehension, phonics and composition as we cruise over lessons she knows much of already. She seems to be enjoying it and the review is always nice.

The only thing I haven't done is work out her new math curriculum. Unlike everything else we are using, the math doesn't really have a detailed plan for where to start. I need to figure out how to use the manipulatives as intended and then figure out where to start in the lesson plan and how to get Iris going on it. I am sure once we are doing math daily the speedy progress on everything else will slow down a bit. I am sure after the Christmas break we will be up and running fairly smoothly on everything.

My thoughts and feelings on homeschooling are shifting from being primarily about how stressful it is and how I can't wait to get Iris back in to a traditional school to more about how much I am enjoying homeschooling her and am glad the idea of public school is still a ways off. The only struggle on that front is that Iris is resisting many of the classes I have set up for her to do out of the home. She did two classes at the community center last term, one this term and just doesn't want to go every week. I forced her to last week and through the whole thing she was, well, pissed. I did have her go to a new art class that she seemed to really enjoy so I am hoping we can do more of that one. After the next couple of weeks at the community center she is done with her class and honestly I just don't know if I want to sign her up for any more. This kid just really doesn't want to be anywhere except home most of the time. I keep hearing the voice in my head (and out of the mouths of people in my life!) saying "she needs socialization!" but then I look at her and I see where she is the least anxious and the most comfortable . . . . and I cave a bit on forcing her out of her comfort zone. Clearly we need work in this area.

It has been really amazing to see how Iris has changed over the past couple of months, however. Obviously there are many reasons she may be changing, not just because of homeschooling, but she really has become more patient and more kind. Sure there are moments of impatience and being quite UNkind, but not nearly as many as before. While Iris has always had a pretty amazing ability to articulate things, Matt has noticed that has gotten even more pronounced lately. Her sleep is still crap, she still doesn't want to leave the house, she still has moments of anxiety (especially when I force her to leave the house!) but our goal was never perfection. Our goal was, and is, to just have everything be okay more often than it isn't. Hopefully A LOT more, but we'll take even a slight lean to the good side when we can take it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Updates on Public School

There is oh so much to say about how Eloise's school is going. It is such remarkably wonderful stuff, but I have been so wrapped up in, well, life, that I haven't taken the time to write most of it down. I am truly bummed about that, as this blog wasn't just a means of telling the readers what we are up to, but also to document it all for myself and my family. 

So without further ado, here are some highlights from the past few weeks.

Eloise's classroom goes on a lot of field trips. It's quite amazing, actually, how insane brave and energetic her teacher is to organize so many trips. Right now the theme in the classroom is "markets". Earlier in November the class went on a trip to the "world famous" Pike's Place Market. The week before Thanksgiving they went on two different field trips. One of them Matt was a  chaperone for and they walked/city bussed to the local food co-op and got a tour of the store. The second one that week had nothing at all to do with markets, but was a great opportunity for the kids-- they got to see the Seattle Children's Theatre performance of Frog and Toad. Iris and I were lucky enough to chaperone the SCT trip. Tickets to performances at SCT are pretty expensive so we have never been, but now I am hooked. It was so amazingly well done, from the set to the costumes to the acting/singing and music/sound effects. This week the kids are going to Seattle's International District to check out markets that they are likely unfamiliar with. 

Last week we had Eloise's parent/teacher conference. We had been witnessing some increase in Eloise's tendency to be rough with other kids-- using her hands instead of her words when she gets upset. She has ebbed and flowed with this issue most of her life and right now we're in a bit of a trying period again. When we sat down for the conference it was the first thing I wanted to talk about. I never care as much about how she is reading/writing/doing math as I do about how she is getting along with other kids. We are so fortunate that Eloise's teacher is incredibly kind of loving and supportive. She has done a good job working with Eloise and using appropriate discipline as necessary. I was concerned about Eloise's ability to make and keep friends because of her behavior and also about her friend's ability to give themselves space from her when they need to. 

We discussed quite a bit, but the one thing that struck about the teacher is she explained, basically, how this issue is Eloise's struggle, but it doesn't really define her. She has so many other amazing, positive things about her and the other kids can see that she is a good person who struggles with controlling her body sometimes. Awwwwwww! I love that this her classroom is such a supportive place and Eloise isn't labelled a "bad kid" because of this. *sniff*

Her teacher had completely filled (like, scribbling in the margins filled) an evaluation of where Eloise was in other areas, too. With such a big classroom it is amazing that she is able to take that much time with each student to grasp exactly where they are. All in all we were not at all surprised with how Eloise was doing and were 100% pleased with her progress.

I have been surprised lately with Eloise's interest in reading. I am not sure how close she is to independent reading, as she doesn't quite know all of her letters yet, but she has a strong interest. Iris started reading a couple of months before she turned six and have always thought there was no way Eloise would be reading on the same time frame-- but I think we might be pleasantly surprised! With Iris I don't remember so much practice, it almost seemed like one day she was reading and that was that. It's fun to be so involved with Eloise' process. 

Both Iris and Eloise had the entire week of Thanksgiving off of school because Seattle Public Schools are closed that week. It was fun to have them both home and just run with a relaxed schedule and do whatever we wanted. I was sad to see Eloise go back to school this week, though I did have to pick her up early today because she didn't feel well. There has been a definite inner struggle with me, knowing how awesome her classroom and school are and how well she is doing there, but also wanting her home with me more. I keep coming back to this idea that there needs to be more (or any!) part-time schools for families who want part-time formal school and part-time home school. I have heard of them in other parts of the country, I have even heard grumblings there may be something like that in the 'burbs, but there is nothing in Seattle. The Waldorf group that Iris was a part of for a short time came close to that kind of schedule, but it was a make-shift program run by three parents. As far as I have heard in my admittedly limited experience in the Seattle home school community there aren't other programs like that that parents are running. 

Hopefully my next update won't take so long! There is so much to say. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lessons From a Kindergarten Teacher

There is so much our family can learn from Eloise's kindergarten teacher, but here are two of my recent favorites:

"Oh, well." and "Don't yuck my yum!"

Let me further explain. At school the kids are learning that, sometimes, the best thing to do when a situation isn't going their way is to say "oh, well." Obviously, this isn't always the best thing, but a lot of the time it can be. Like if a kid takes the crayon you had your eye on? "oh, well." If someone cuts in front of you in line? "oh, well."

Luckily for us, "oh, well." has transferred over in to family life. For example, last night at dinner Iris said she didn't like the "chicken" I made in the stir-fry (it was actually seitan, but I didn't tell anyone, figuring that pointing it out would make them less likely to eat it). Then Iris quickly followed her proclamation with "oh, well." Matt and I pointed out that we have say "oh, well." a lot in our own lives, too. It's not just kids who don't get their way (and man, I would venture to say, being an adult means I get my way less than I ever did as a kid!)

My favorite, though, is "don't yuck my yum!" or "don't yuck someone else's yum!" which means, don't be a downer about something I like. You can apply this to different situations, like (using the dinner reference again) if Iris started complaining about the dinner I made, I would say "don't yuck my yum!" and she would know that means to keep her complaints about something I made or like to herself. Or if Iris is really excited about an idea that Eloise isn't so excited about, I could say "don't yuck her yum!" and Eloise would know to keep quiet.

We talk a lot about how we can think things in our head, but that sometimes those thoughts shouldn't come out of our mouths. Hate the dinner I made? Well, go ahead and complain all you want in your head, but I don't want to hear about it! It's far from being perfectly executed, but to me, it's a decent message. Think what you want and censor your mouth.




Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Math Curriculum

Since we recently enrolled in CVA I was excited to have the opportunity to try out some new curriculum for Iris. I hemmed and hawwed and lost sleep over my decisions, but eventually just had to pick something-- and the math curriculum came today! Oh, my. It came in a scary gigantic box. Like, maybe I could ship my five year old somewhere in it (and don't think I haven't thought about it already . . . )

The math curriculum I chose was RightStart Mathematics Level B.

Image courtesy of RightStart Mathematics.

The cool thing about RightStart Mathematics is that it comes with a mind-boggling amount of manipulatives. I can't speak to all children, but I can speak to mine: teaching Iris math without anything to mess with while she is doing it is really quite difficult. For instance, today we were going through her (now previous) math book and learning about analog clocks. It was basically impossible to figure out how a clock works without having an actual clock in her hands to mess with.

One of the things that has been tricky for me is just jumping in to being Iris's teacher after having her in elementary school for two years. Now, I have to say, I LOVED her previous school, and didn't want to have trade it for homeschooling (until I felt like I had to get Iris out of ANY school setting), but it does now present the challenge for me of teaching a child and not really knowing where she is at. I am figuring it out, though, and she is just going to have to be okay with lots of repetition sometimes and jumping in to things she isn't really familiar with at others.

I look forward to writing some reviews of the RightStart Mathematics curriculum to share with everyone after we've done some work with it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Field Trips, Times Two!

Today Eloise had a short day of school (I love early release days!) so we decided to schedule our field trip for this afternoon so that we could include her.

First stop was checking out the demolition of a highway in Seattle, Hwy 99, aka the Alaskan Way Viaduct.


Right under the stop lights you can see two layers of a bridge. The viaduct had one level heading north (the top level) and the bottom level headed south. Apparently it was at risk of coming down with an earthquake, so they decided to tear it down pro-actively.

The cranes on the ground had jaws at the end that just ripped off chunks of concrete. It was pretty cool.


The cranes on the top of the highway acted like gigantic jackhammers. The amount of rebar in the concrete was amazing!


Workers stood on the ground shooting firehouses at the debris. I assumed it was to help keep the dust down? Not really sure, though.


It was like a movie, I swear we could have stood there an watched all afternoon! We are hoping to go back on Friday and see how much further they get.

After the demo action we headed south to The Museum of Flight. I had never been there before and while it was fun to expose the girls to all of the displays, it was frustrating to move through the museum at their speed and not get to read pretty much anything we passed.


Iris took this shot of one open part of the museum.


Iris in a cockpit of some plane that I failed to make a note of.


Eloise in that same plane.


Iris on a hang gliding simulator.


Eloise on the same simulator.


A headless me in the USAir jet. See?! I do exist! At least from the neck down.


This whole series is hilarious (or maybe you had to be there?) Eloise was having a really intense conversation with some imaginary person on the other end of the phone. Here's what I imagined her saying:


"You did WHAT?!"


"Do you even hear me?!?!"



"Heads are gonna roll!"



"I am dealing with idiots."


Iris as an astronaut.


Hello from outer space!


Running to take a tour of the Air Force One.


I asked the girls to wave to their adoring citizens upon arrival.


What happens when I ask Iris to pose.


What happens when I ask Eloise to pose.


This was inside Air Force One, on our second tour of the plane. It was from the 50's (I think) and the old computers were hysterical. Hanging next to the phones is an old school pencil sharpener.



Every time I see THAT many buttons on something I have to think, "Really?! How in the world could that many buttons actually be utilized?!" I imagine the person who sat here just clicked on buttons to look important. On the other side of the plane opposite this is a safe that, when in flight with the President, held an "attache case" with the codes for the President to set off nuclear missiles. For realz.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Haiku

Last week Iris and I learned about syllables. We also referred to them as beats and counted out the syllables of many words until we got the hang of it.

Today we decided to write haikus, based on our recent lesson on syllables. I shouldn't be so surprised, but Iris picked up on it extremely quickly. We wrote our first haiku together about Iris's hamster, Cheddar and talked about how lines of a haiku have 5, then 7, then 5 syllables. We talked about how to be aware of the flow of an entire sentence of words and not just each word on its own.


Iris decided to write her Haiku about turtles. She first started by drawing some pictures to gain inspiration from and then moved on to her poem. Her first line was the easiest (isn't it always?) but then she needed to write out the second line and say it over in her head a few times before it stuck. Her last line was the most interesting, I thought. She first thought the word "Hawaii" had two beats, but then realizing it had three she had to figure out another way to work that line. Iris quickly decided to change Hawaii to Maui and voila! five syllables in the last line.

Her haiku reads (I corrected any spelling mistakes):

Turtles like water
They breathe and hold their breath, too
Maui is their home


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Art Project: Treehouses

Recently Iris and I decided to go through a few of our recent issues of Disney's Family Fun magazine to get some ideas for fun art and craft projects. The first thing that caught our eye was a cardboard tree house.
This is what the tree house in the magazine looks like.

It was pretty time consuming to print out, tape together and cut out the templates before tracing them on to cardboard and then cutting those all out, but in the end the project was worth it. We also realized pretty quickly that we couldn't just make one for Iris so we planned to cut out enough tree house pieces to make one for Eloise, as well. As luck would have it, our nine year old neighbor girl showed up at our door looking for something to do just as I started cutting out the cardboard, so we had an extra pair of hands to help.

Since no one in our family is known for their patience, the girls decided pretty quickly not to painstakingly paint the canopy green, or paint anything else for that matter. A few scribbles with the crayons and markers did the trick. They also drew designs on to the cardboard as well as specific decorations for each floor, depending on what was intended to use that space. Iris included some "carpeting" on hers, which you can see in the second picture (the first two photos are hers).



You may notice that I added some late reinforcements to both of the tree houses. I missed a step in the process, which was to add the reinforcement strips right away. Oops.


These next two are photos of Eloise's tree house. The blue tape is supposed to be a rope, I think because we didn't have the paper towel tubes to make the "stairs" that the pattern called for. We also didn't put a wall in on the base level or a base at all (because I was too lazy).


The tree houses aren't quite tall enough for Barbies, but they would fit Pollys nicely, or the girls have been putting their Japanese erasers in them.

I had suggested gluing things like shells, glass baubles, or small rocks to them as well as making cool furniture out of cardboard or sticks, but so far we haven't done so. Hmmm. Maybe I should have made myself one of these?

The other thing I did differently from the plan is I used a hot glue gun and really reinforced every slit where the pieces fit together. The hot glue worked really well, though that made it pretty much impossible for the girls to glue them themselves. I am happy to let them use the glue gun, but the danger factor combined with needing to work fast and sometimes precisely made it a job a bit too tough for small hands.

From the start of printing the patterns to the end of gluing the cardboard pieces together I would say it took about three hours (for two tree houses). Not a quick project, but certainly a fun one! The bonus was that although I chose to buy new, clean bardboard boxes (for just under $5 total) this project could be done for next to nothing. Free if you already have glue, cardboard and ink in your printer (which I ran out of).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Second Homeschool Field Trip

Today Iris and I went to the Pacific Science Center. We are lucky in that Iris's Grandparents gave us a membership to this place last year for Christmas, so we have been a few times over the past several months. The most fun part about multiple visits to the same place are getting to see the revolving exhibits, and today was no exception. The main exhibit this time was "Puzzle Palooza" which featured a 35 foot tall electronic Groovik's Cube that was built by roommates and friends of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law (and my BIL worked on software design). We were really excited to see it in person as we have heard a lot about it and seen pictures of it, but have never seen it in person.


There are three different monitors you can sit at and play as a team or play solo. The original intent was that three people would need to work collaboratively since on person can't see all sides of it at the same time. Here when you play solo you just play the three sides you can see. There are different levels of play so Iris was able to solve it a few times. The squares are screens that are lit up so making a move on the touch screen (see below) changes the colors on the cube just as if you were moving a Rubik's Cube in your hands.


You can't really read this picture, I am sure, but it is quite interesting to learn how this thing was made. It had a budget of $10,000 and was made for Burning Man in 2009. The only thing I thought was kind of lame was that it didn't list all of the people who worked on the project, but you can read all of that on the Groovik's Cube website.


The Groovik's Cube was part of an exhibit on puzzles. It took me an embarrassingly long time, but I eventually solved this puzzle below. I did one more, too, but the rest were too frustrating for me. My brain doesn't quite work that way!


After we checked out a few other exhibits we went to the IMAX theatre to see a film called Rocky Mountain Express on how the Canadian railroad was built. I found it fascinating, Iris I think was a little bored, but she did good sitting through it and asked a few questions, so I know she at least paid attention.Wasn't nearly as cute as Born to Be Wild, which we saw last time!


This section of PacSci had some fun interactive displays, like playing music or pretending you were half your size and sitting at a giant table and chairs.


Iris also got to compose a piece of music, have it recorded and played back to her!


All in all it was a really fun trip. Next week we are planning to go to the Museum of Flight and the week after is Free First Thursday at many local museums, so we will head down to the Seattle Art Museum, which we are big fans of.

Maybe it's a bit premature, but I think a field trip a week might just be where it is at!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moving Forward

Whew! I finally got to connect with our CVA teacher today, which was a good feeling since I enrolled just over a month ago. He talked through some curriculum ideas with me and I decided on using a pre-packaged curriculum for everything but math, which will be something different. It feels SO good to have that decision made.

All I have left to do, in the near future hopefully, is figure out all of the "extras". Like what kinds of arts or physical education classes she can take or what sorts of things I need to support our schooling outside of curriculum.

I am also really hoping that since Iris is now technically a public school student, who is schooled at home (kind of lends a whole 'nother layer to the point of this blog, huh?) she most likely has some services available to her-- like getting testing to see if she has any sort of learning disabilities we need to be aware of. As I watched her today some things started to click for me about what may be going on with her. I won't say exactly what, because I am nervous about throwing labels around quite yet, but I have a gut feeling that I might be on to something. So, either through the public school system or through private testing, we will figure it out. And hopefully soon.

I have been getting/reading advice on keeping our schooling time short and to the point and right now that is working okay. It sort of has to since I have so many other things these days to accomplish during the day and Iris won't sit and do school work without me overseeing it. However we are usually only hitting on the main subjects-- math and language arts-- every day. Being a natural artist/reader Iris is doing those things on her own.

Tomorrow we go on another field trip! I wonder what kinds of fun excursions I will come up with once we sweep through everything we have a membership to?



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Field Trip for One

Today Iris and I went on a field trip to our local zoo. I sort of get a kick out calling it a field trip. Maybe I should start referring our jaunts to the grocey store, coffee shop and pet store field trips too? I think I shall.

Because I wanted to make sure Iris "got something" out of the trip I pre-planned a wee tiny bit. I know, I know, like she would have walked around immune to learning without my messing with it, right? I told her before we left that she was in control of what we saw and had to take on the duties of reading the zoo map. She has gotten frustrated with the map in the past, but it was time to try again.

First she led us to the family farm. Here Iris may have learned her biggest lesson of the day. We walked over to a pen that had a lone bunny in it. We ooohed and aaahed over how cute it was and a zookeeper was standing close by noticing us. Iris looked at me and said "can we pet it?" In my head I thought the answer was no, but I looked at her and said "you can ask!" Iris paused and with her squeaky shy voice said to the zookeeper "can we pet it?" and to our surprise the answer was yes! The zookeeper picked up the bunny and Iris sank her hands in to his soft coat while she listened to some facts about bunnies. This is when Iris learned what a prey animal was. Good times. But for Iris to even ask was kind of huge for her. I am glad she had such a positive outcome for taking the risk and speaking up.

What else did Iris learn? Here are a few examples:

-the difference between feline and canine
-tons of bird facts, like where hornbills are from and why flamingoes are pink
-that there is such a thing as a legless lizard (and if you're thinking, isn't that called a snake? Well, no, apparently!)
- what venom is and what the terms venomous/non-venomous mean
-what kinds of bugs have exoskeletons
-what it means when a giant snake kills something by constriction
-that Seattle doesn't have black widows
-that Seattle doesn't have tarantulas
-that there are layers in the rainforest
-how to read the zoo map and make use of signs to get where she wanted to go

And of course a ton more. Man, the zoo is fun.

I thought she would be bored there without her sister, but she wasn't at all. We both agreed we were glad we went even though it can be tough for either of us to feel motivated. I put the zoo outing on our calendar because I knew we would never go unless it was planned.

Looking forward to more fun outings!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pumpkin Patch and HS Frustrations

Yesterday Iris and I were chaperones on Eloise's class's field trip to a pumpkin patch at a farm. There were 25 kids, six (or seven?) parents and one teacher and I have to say, it felt pretty chaotic! We travelled around the farm in a group and many of us parents spent a lot of time saying "walking feet!" or "don't stick your fingers in there!" or "don't hurt your friend's body!" Whew! We went through a hay maze, met some chickens and pigs, checked out the produce picked for the CSA, took a hay ride and then picked out our pumpkins from the field. Plus a 45 minute bus ride each way. I think the kids overall really enjoyed it, though, so that is what counts, right? I was glad we got to go because Iris had a chance to ride on a school bus and visit the farm, too.

Monday is our regular volunteer day at school so we got a double dose of kindergartners this week. Monday is Chinese class for the kids and it is kind of neat that Iris gets to sit in on that, too. She is learning right along with everyone else! Iris is starting to do more things on her own in the K classroom and I like to see her being comfortable with that. Like she will help a child or small group of children do a project while I am helping someone else. Iris also loves sitting and listening to the teacher during reading time. I think she is getting some great experience just being in the school, which is great because that is where we plan to transition her to (except, of course, not in to the K classroom! ha.)

Unfortunately Monday morning was a rough morning on the homeschooling front. Iris is so defiant that she will write numbers incorrectly on purpose or not follow the instructions in her workbook. For our lesson on Monday she had to guess at the length of something before she measured it and went through and wrote any number she felt like without thinking about it. It drives me crazy because I know she understands it-- if anything, it might be bit too easy. I don't really know how to get her to care about the work she is doing.

The straw that broke the homeschooling mama's back that morning was Iris throwing a pencil at me, so we stopped immediately after that. I have had her work on some computer math stuff (through Dreambox) since then but haven't done any formal work with her. It kind of makes me wonder if I should do more "unschooling" with her, in order to eliminate the fights, but there are so many worries I have about that: we plan to put Iris back in school next year. I worry that by unschooling she will miss working on the specific topics that the kids in PS are working on this year. I worry that the further we stray from structure the harder it will be for her to adhere to one next year.

Anyways, we meet with a psychiatrist again next week to talk this all through to figure out what will be the best for Iris. I am hoping to get Iris signed up for more classes now that she isn't in her two days/week home school program. I think it will help round out a lot of areas and I will be less stressed about everything. This is our first week of no home school group so we're still in re-configuring mode.




Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Curriculum in a Kindergarten Classroom

I like to think of my daughter's public school classroom as fairly laid back, as far as public school goes. I know the classrooms can range district to district, school to school or even teacher to teacher, but we got lucky.

We landed a teacher (I will call her Ms. K) with an amazing mix of heart, humor and skills for teaching 27 little ones every day. I have said this a bunch of times, I know, but I will probably keep saying it until the day Eloise graduates from first grade (yup, we get Ms. K for two years!).

So on curriculum night last week many of us parents squeezed our giant bottoms on little kid chairs and listened intently to Ms. K talk about her approach to teaching kindergarten. I felt like everything she said, and it isn't just lip service with her, was absolutely spot on to what I feel should be the focus of the classroom. Here are some highlights:

Classroom Dynamic

Ms. K works from day one to help the children develop a sense of ownership in the classroom. The students all help develop the rules of the classroom as well as a system to how things work so that they have pride in how things work. The rules are practiced together and children are encouraged to work things out between themselves when they can, with some guidance from "the wheel of choice" when needed (the wheel of choice is a guide to solutions). Meetings and talking circles provide education and reflection on what is going on in the classroom. Stuffed animals help demonstrate situations and give the kids another way of exploring behavior. Shy snail and impulsive puppy were a couple of stars from the story telling animals.

Support in the School and at Home

The children have connections with not only many other adults in the school, but other children, as well. There are kids in the school up to 14 years old and sometimes the Kindergarten kids get help from "big buddies", which so far Eloise absolutely loves. There are teachers who work with the kids on the arts, in the library, in the gym, and members of the staff in the front office and in the counselor's office interact with the kids on a regular basis. Ms. K is huge on parental support in the classroom. She shares a huge amount of information a regular basis on what is going on in the class and welcomes parent volunteers in to the class every day.

Math Curriculum

Math on the level of 5/6 year olds is generally more about understanding concepts than it is about memorizing numbers and drills on worksheets. They have begun to work with patterns and math games to gain a general sense of how numbers work. When I have been volunteering I get to watch Ms. K starts out a math portion of the day with a brain dance. She guides the kids through a seemingly random set of motions connected to a story ("let's pretend we are newborn fish hatching from our eggs! Let's wiggle out of the egg, now let's stretch our fins!") but she deliberately goes through a series of moves that activate the brain by moving the body up and down, crossing arms and legs over your mid-line, things like that. After the brain dance kids get to break up in to small groups and play math games such as uno or dice games or pattern blocks.

Reading and Writing Curriculum

I absolutely loved that the focus right now is learning to tell a story and not on being able to even write words yet, let alone spell things correctly. The kids are given a choice of different kinds of paper to use during their writing time-- everything from a paper with an empty space to draw in with no lines for writing on to a page that is half lines for writing and half space for drawing. The kids are learning three sections of a story, "First, then, finally". So they compose a story such as "first I put on my shoes, then I walked my dog, finally we made it to the playground" all in picture. As they become more interested in the words they often start by writing initials of the people in their stories and then move on to writing their names. This builds in to writing the text of the story, though the focus is still on the story and not on the words. Children will often start out reading things that they have written themselves, which I found fascinating. Ms. K pointed out that a kid who reads at four and a kid who reads at seven pretty much totally even out their skill level by the time they hit third grade, so focusing on words and letters isn't at the heart of their reading and writing curriculum. It's on understanding how to tell stories.

What Else is Going On?

The kids in this Kindergarten class are on the move. Besides an afternoon session of Ms. K reading to the kids while they hang out on their carpet squares and listen/draw, I never see them stuck on their bottoms for long and I am sure it helps that there are three recesses a day. The whole notion of public school kids being stuck behind a desk does not hold true around there at all. By next week the kids will have already gone on two field trips, as well.

Do I wish there was more art? Sure I do, but they also get music, PE, library time and a foreign language. And Ms. K does art in the class, as well, sometimes sneakily wrapped up with a math lesson or expounding on an adventure learning about a certain animal. I deeply miss the amazing art studio of Eloise's previous school, but they weren't getting some of this other stuff, so I think it balances out.

I loved how intentional Ms. K also is about so many things in her classroom. Like for example, she has two different number lines up in her room, one that runs from left to right and one from top to bottom, so kids can begin to see the relation between the numbers is the same even when they arranged a little different. It was fascinating to hear her explain how all sorts of concepts can be taught in subtle ways. She even rolled her eyes a bit as she explained how she slips in some WASL info in to the day (ie teaching the definition of perimeter out on the playground by asking kids to "run the perimeter" of the playground" because she knows it's on the test). She knows the kids have to take the WASL, so she is required on some level to teach to it, but she is creative about it and I really appreciate that about her. She will take attendance with colored cubes that fit together, re-arranging them so the kids can see the total number is the same even when the pattern of colors change.

In my opinion, however, Ms. K goes the furthest on having a huge heart and a passion for teaching these kids. You can tell she just really adores them and does everything she can to help nurture their spirit, and not their ability to take a test.

I look forward to stealing a few teaching pointers from her to incorporate in to homeschooling, as well!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Don't Belong Here

Ugh, today is a no-good, horrible, very bad day.

This morning I got an email saying, basically, that my daughter's behavior was essentially ruining everything about the Waldorf program she was in and they were asking her to leave. Now, I can't say I am upset about the piece about her leaving, as my suspicions were that it wasn't the right fit for her. What I am upset about is that this group put up a front of being supportive and they weren't, at all. From day one I explained the anxiety/behavior issues with Iris and they were all "oh, I think it will be great!" and now, nine school days later, they are all "oh my god, leave now!" without ever having been supportive or trying to work things out during the past month. Insert a few choice expletives here, if you will. But, you know, like I said, it's good in that we can be done with people who don't want us there.

Oh, I have a long rant in my head, but I will spare my blog and my readers.

Of course, there is the question now of what will we do? I had kind of banked a HUGE portion of our homeschooling year on this Waldorf program. I don't really know, yet. My instincts tell me to hold Iris in close, to keep her safe, but I know, in the long term, that might not be the best thing. I just have to find something else that is right for her, where she can be loved and supported and thrive. My mama bear claws are WAY out right now and that might mean not letting anyone else in her world for a bit.

I will likely look more in to classes for individual things, like art or music or athletics. Iris is doing amazing in her swimming class as well her art and fashion design class, so it will just be a matter of figuring out what else will work right now.

Exhale.

Tonight Matt and I are off to Eloise's school's curriculum night. I am kind of bummed that we will be at the kindergarten one and not get to hear about the higher grades, but that's not that big of a deal. I look forward to writing about it tomorrow!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Volunteer Day

Iris and I had our third day of volunteering in the classroom today. I have to say, so far I have been incredibly impressed with Iris over the many hours we've helped out so far (three hours each day over three days). She is helpful, quiet, polite, and listens to direction well. Hmmmm . . . maybe public school IS the right place for her?!?!


Along that thought, I decided to send the principal of Eloise's school an email today asking about how to get Iris in to their school eventually. Since it isn't our reference school, Iris isn't guaranteed a spot there. I also asked about the services they have set up for kids who need extra support. Looking forward to hearing back from them.


And along other, similar lines, I still haven't heard back from CVA regarding our online public schooling! I sent in my forms last Tuesday. Grrr.


Anyways, it was another great day in the Kindergarten room. We started our afternoon with Chinese. Apparently the Chinese teacher has really taken to Eloise. The teacher was so impressed with her and asked me if we practiced Chinese at home. I hope the confusion in my face was lost in translation on the teacher. I replied that we didn't practice Chinese, and the teacher said she would send some stuff home for Eloise to work on.


In Chinese class and through the rest of the day I continued to notice something about the kids that I have been observing for a few days: those kids who are shy, or not "getting it" or whatever, are kind of getting lost in the shuffle. I was buddies with an extremely shy girl today (loving that she has taken to me so well!) and she sits in the back and doesn't participate, barely even raises her head. I had to wonder how much she was getting out of the lessons such as Chinese. The girl didn't speak, didn't do the hand signals, didn't move at all. The teacher never noticed.


I have to say that I am so grateful that I have a kid like Eloise who will always be right up there in front when she can. Who will participate and answer/ask questions and never sink in to the back of the group. I feel like her personality will get her very, very far in life. It is a little heart breaking to watch the kids who aren't ready to jump in head first kind of get left behind on some things. It just re-confirms how happy I am to be able to help out in class and be the buddy for kids who need one.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Exhausting.

Overall, this week was incredibly exhausting. There certainly were some amazing parts, but even those can be just as exhausting as the rough parts.

One thing that is a big source of stress around these parts is wondering if the Waldorf program we have Iris in is a good fit for her (and our family), as well as worrying if we are a good fit for the rest of the program. Iris had a really difficult day on Tuesday. So difficult, in fact, that I got a call to come and get her because her behavior was so out of hand and the teacher couldn't handle it. I have to say that I find it sort of interesting that in all of Iris's schooling, this is the first time I was ever asked to take her home because of her behavior. Long story short, that tells me two things: one, that something about the program is making Iris act so out of control (above and beyond her usual level of acting out) and two, that this program might not be one that can deal with Iris.

Not only is it extremely clear that Iris is going to be the "problem child" in the class, but our family's lack of being Waldorf-minded might quickly become an issue, as well. But we'll see, we haven't flown the coop yet, though it feels very much that our days might be numbered.

On the other hand, we've had a pretty good week of learning together at home, though we did less this week than we usually do because of other things going on. Iris started using a math website called DreamBox and she is really loving it!

Moving along . . .

Iris and I ended up volunteering two afternoons in Eloise's class this week. I was concerned that there were not volunteers on the schedule for Friday so I asked the teacher if she wanted us to come back in, which she agreed would be helpful. In just the small amount of time that we have been in the class many of the other children are really taking to me, which I think is pretty groovy. The one boy I was the buddy for on Monday gave me a big hug when he saw me again on Thursday, which was so sweet. Eloise's teacher is so full of joy and so grateful for all of the support she gets, she gave me a big hug today too. It was like a giant love-fest over there!

Being so intertwined with the flow of the day in the kindergarten room made me well aware of how difficult the large class sizes are in public school. I thought Eloise's class had 25 kids, but they got two new ones this week, so I am not sure if they replaced kids or are added to the bunch. At any rate, it's a lot of kids. The whole thing is set up so differently from the days Iris used to have in the small multi-age private school classroom she was in for K and 1st! Eloise does seem to really be thriving, though. Whew! She is so involved, so excited, so creative, so ready to listen and learn. Yes, she has her moments and issues like every other kid, but she is just doing so wonderfully in the class overall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lapbooking with my Homeschooler (and Public Schooler!)




Today Iris and I finished her first lapbook about mostly gems and a little bit about crystals. (Side note, I just quickly googled and found that link. So far I don't have a favorite lapbook link.) Lapbooks are a folder that a child fills with information on a specific topic. One fun point about lapbooks is that they are full of little mini books to explore which make reading a lapbook interactive.



Iris decided on our first day of homeschooling that she was going to learn about gems and crystals for her science class. We proceeded to check out books from the library and read all about how gems and crystals are formed and took notes about Iris's favorite things. Since Iris absolutely loves writing and drawing I decided using a lapbook to help her utilize her talents.



The lapbook was a hit! Iris does have a tendency to fly through projects as fast as she can-- quantity far outweighs quality in her mind-- so this lapbook has lots of misspellings and scribbles as well as parts where Iris got bored with the selection process of finding the right mini books so she just wrote right on the folder. Ah, well! She already has decided her next one will be a little more "fancy". We watched a YouTube video about a really elaborate lapbook (which relied heavily on the use of a computer) and Iris was a little befuddled that hers didn't resemble the one in the video.


The information she chose to include in her lapbook were facts about pearls, amber, amethyst, birthstones, where gems are found around the world, how gems are formed from plants and animals and how gems are formed from rocks. It was pretty clear that this lapbook skewed heavily towards gems, but Iris really wanted to include amethyst and didn't want to make a separate lapbook for crystals like we had originally planned.

Here is what the inside of her lapbook looks like:






I don't know if you can tell, but both sides fold in and meet in the middle. For some reason this is how they make lapbooks, instead of leaving the manilla folder folded in half. Perhaps to be extra fancy?



Of course, when Eloise got home and saw Iris's lapbook her eyes grew giant and she insisted that she make a lapbook, too. I decided to give her a topic to speed the process along during my busy afternoon rush of a million things to do. She set right to work creating a lapbook on the colors of the rainbow. Since Eloise is five, her lapbook is, well, clearly made by a five year old. It is all hers, though!



My favorite part was when she was coloring her map (she wanted one simply because Iris had one) she colored Africa and then said "Africa!". I looked at her and said, "did you just label Africa?" and, well, it turned out it was a very lucky guess. Or I suppose I can just choose to think of Eloise as a genius!



I have another photo of the mini books opened up, but my netbook is being weird, so I can't get to upload correctly. If I can fix it later I will post it.


As soon as Eloise started working on her lapbook I immediately thought "look at this bridge between school outside and inside the home!" and then realized, duh, all kids who attend school outside the home are also learning inside the home (or more specifically, outside of school).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Volunteering in the Classroom

Today I was able to volunteer in Eloise's classroom for the first time and I was just thrilled about the opportunity. Her teacher was okay with me bringing Iris along so it's going to work out nicely for us to be there once a week for a few hours. It's a big chunk out of our schooling time at home, but I think Iris will gain some valuable experience helping out the kindergartners, so I am okay with the change in her schedule.

The biggest thing that struck me today was how many activities the kids are moving through every day! I do realize that these are five year olds with a more limited attention span, but we were on the move all afternoon. When Iris and I arrived in the class half way through their day the kids were finishing up what was their recess time by playing in the classroom. It was a pretty rainy afternoon, which doesn't mean skipping all outside recess time, but it does limit it a bit.

After free time we went to Chinese class. Oh, my. This Chinese teacher (who is here from China) is what I have in my mind as a stereotypical Chinese teacher-- very firm. She wants kids to sit still and in a line and no talking. She even told the kids that if they were talking or moving about they would have to come and stand up by her for five minutes, which was very shameful. Eeek! Interestingly, despite kids not really listening that well (they are all five, after all!), she never shamed anyone by having them stand by her. She did "good job" many kids and put stickers on their sticker chart kind of randomly. Luckily this isn't how the kindy teacher operates.

There is one little boy in the class who needs a lot of support, so I stuck close by him for class. After Chinese the kindy teacher asked me if he had fallen asleep in class, which he is prone to doing (!). He hadn't, but I spent a lot of my time keeping him focused. When we were leaving the Chinese teacher thanked me for helping and I assured her I would be back every Monday to help, which she was thrilled about. I still can't figure out how the teachers maneuver so many kids through their day and actually get anything done.

After Chinese we went in the class for carpet time/teacher reading aloud. After read aloud was math games. After math games was outside recess and snack. After recess was library time. After library time was free choice, then another circle before heading home.

Iris and I really enjoyed the times when we could directly interact with kids and help out. We both disliked the times when Iris had to be quiet (turns out it is just as hard for her as it for the five year olds) and I had to help the kids stay quiet. Iris also reported that she didn't like the Chinese class, but I didn't really blame her. It wasn't very fun.

I kept thinking about the post I read that Teacher Tom wrote about the importance of volunteering in your child's class and that parental involvement was the number one predictor of a child's success in school. Today, surrounded by 20-some kids, I couldn't help but think that one of the biggest reasons this was true was simply because more help in the classroom means more kids are learning and not just being "handled" by their teacher. Go here, sit there, be quiet, stay in line. There is a clear reason why teachers need to organize their students so well, it would be chaos otherwise, but more adult hands mean less managing by the teacher. Less time managing means more time teaching and learning.

In closing, I have to say, I just don't know how teachers do it. It is so very difficult teaching such large classrooms of such small children. It takes a very special soul to be able to do it with so much love and joy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog. I very much appreciate you stopping by to get a glimpse in to our world!

I wanted to start this blog because my family is in a very unique situation in terms of how we are educating our daughters. My older daughter Iris is being homeschooled this year for second grade after being in a private school for two years. My younger daughter Eloise is in public school for kindergarten.

In my time spent perusing the blogs of homeschool families I have yet to run across one that embraces other forms on schooling, either philosophically or in reality-- not that they aren't out there, just that I haven't found one. It's been a bit, well, annoying to me to mostly face a homeschooling attitude of superiority over other forms of schooling. Of course, homeschooling may be a superior choice for one child in particular, but not as an overall philosophy for every child or every family. At least not in my opinion. I decided to write about bridging the gap between two opposing schooling worlds.

My husband and I came to our decision to school our daughters in two very different ways over many, many discussions, an insane amount of thought and research, and by just asking the girls themselves.

Our school journey started when Iris was just over a year old. I enrolled her in a preschool co-op that she and I attended one day per week for a couple of hours. The next year her co-op was two days a week, but I didn't last too long as I had an infant to care for and co-op was too much to juggle. Iris began a very small Reggio Emilia style preschool when she turned three. She stayed at that school until she turned five, when I went insane with worry over where to send her for kindergarten. At the time that Iris was going to start kindy the Seattle Public School system was offering parents a "choice" of where to send their children. No child was guaranteed a spot at their neighborhood school and all parents had to submit a school choice form and then cross their fingers. I toured many schools and my husband and I decided our favorite was a school with an arts focus, which she got assigned to.

The summer before kindy began, however, we bought our first house and our family relocated to the other side of the city. I set to work trying to get Iris transferred to a public school in our new area and was told by SPS that we were on a waiting list for a local school, but that Iris would stay assigned to the school with the arts focus. It was easily a thirty minute drive each way, in good traffic, to the school, so we decided we needed another option. A small private school in our new neighborhood had an opening for Eloise in their preschool as well as an opening in their elementary grades classroom for Iris. We were thrilled to have found such a perfect solution to our school issue!

Iris's kindergarten year was extremely traumatic for her as well as me. Every single day of drop off Iris screamed and clung to me and most days did not want to go to school while complaining of stomach aches. It took a lot of work, but by her first grade year (in the same classroom with the same teacher) she was less anxious overall about school. Unfortunately, her anxiety shifted and began manifesting itself in behavioral issues and poor social skills.

In those two years Eloise completely flourished in her preschool classroom. We had some behavior problems with her, but they were more the "run of the mill" kind and improved with some firm and kind direction from her teachers. Eloise was social and happy and LOVED school.

By the time Spring was rolling around in Iris's first grade year I decided that we needed to pull Iris out of school and give her a break from the constant anxiety. Since her school ran year-round, she ended up leaving three months before the scheduled end of the year. At that time my husband and I decided that Iris would be homeschooled for second grade in hopes of getting a handle on her anxiety and working on her social skills.

In the Spring we also enrolled Eloise in the Seattle Public School system for her kindergarten year. The rules had changed since Iris was originally enrolled and now all children had a guaranteed spot at their neighborhood school. Since I did not like our neighborhood school (it is a good school, but not my cup of tea) I requested that she be enrolled at our area's "option school". It was a long, nerve-wracking wait to find out where Eloise would be assigned. I decided that if she didn't get in to the school I wanted her to that she would go to the private school that she had been to preschool at (in the same classroom Iris had been in). Eloise repeatedly reported that she did not want to be homeschooled and also did want to go to the private school. She wanted to go to a BIG school (her words). My husband and I thought, you know, what the heck. We will send her to a public school if she gets in to the one we want her to. And she did.

We spent the summer doing a huge amount of relaxing, playing and traveling and come the beginning of September, we dove head first in to our new routine.

My daughters are as different as could be. One is anxious, introverted, artistic and enjoys being absorbed in imaginative play on her own. The other is extroverted, extremely physical, loves playing with other kids and has not a fear in the world. I love that we could find a school solution that fits each of their very unique needs. There is no one situation that would have fit both of their needs as perfectly as what we have have chosen for each of them separately.