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


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.


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.