Category Archives: Nat A-Go-Go

Need Reader Feedback

Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)

 

P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Homeschool Update Spring 2013

Well, technically spring, anyway…

IMG_2834

After a week or so, we got some sprouts. Those are yellow squash in the foreground.

It has been so cold for so long that I forgot to start the seedlings for this summer’s garden until two weeks ago. (Usually, I would start in late February or early March.) But while Cole was visiting her mother in Philadelphia for Spring Break, and Selina was with her, Nat and I got out the seedling trays and planted whatever we had left over from years past, including okra, yellow squash,cucumbers, sweet peas, mini sunflowers (called “teddy bear”), tomatoes (some kind of little ones–grape or cherry or something) and bok choi. I seriously doubt many of them will thrive after transplant. I usually end up at the garden center buying new starters after mine have failed. But I try every year anyway.

Working on the Winter Garden

Working on the Winter Garden

Whatever comes of our efforts, they won’t be as magnificent as our dreams. I started getting seed catalogues in January and rather than spend money on ordering anything, I handed them over to the kids, rolled out a big banner of plain paper and let them go crazy. We enjoyed our “winter garden” during the long, long, loooooong months of winter that stretched into…well, last week, actually. We had snow flurries all morning on 1 April. (It wasn’t funny.)

IMG_2758IMG_2764Both girls have really been wanting to take on big projects that require all kinds of planning and construction. Nat proposed making valentines for everybody at church and she and Selina both spent about a week of work-times (9-11:30 every morning) on this huge job.

Nat also spent quite a bit of time designing and making this sign for Josiah, after he had been away visiting friends in Brooklyn for about a month. There is a rumor that he burst into tears at the sight of it, upon his arrival home at about 5 in the morning:IMG_2785

A Page from one of Selina’s “Biscuit” Stories

Selina has been going gangbusters on her language these days. She would still much rather write than read, so she’s made another book of photos she took herself. She has also been enjoying copying pages out of some of her favorite books. I figure the good old nineteenth century “memorize, copy, recite” technique won’t hurt her–especially given that she’s the one who wants to learn that way.

Practicing Stacked Equations with Coins

Nat, on the other hand, has been enthusiastically working on Math ever since I gave her real money to work with. (She thinks this is a major coup.) We’ve been doing all kinds of things with concrete coins in the past couple of months that Nat has been reluctant to do in the abstract.

One of the best things about not going to school is that the girls (and I) have the time and energy to do a lot of what school would call “extracurricular” activities. Both girls are still taking dance classes on Saturday morning, but now Nat has added a mid-week private dance lesson with her adored teacher, Rosetta. The dance seems to be really helpful in developing her ability to focus and discipline herself to attend to instruction. Rosetta was kind of surprised to find that Nat knows all the stuff she’s been teaching in the beginning ballet class on Saturdays. Until she had Nat one-on-one she didn’t realize how much Nat knew, because in class, Nat is a distraction queen.

That’s pretty much what I’ve discovered in homeschooling too. Nat knows a lot of stuff, but it can be all but impossible for her to settle in and work if a social engagement is an option. Sometimes even having her sister just within hearing is too distracting for her. But when she can get a little peace and solitude, she will often get very deeply into what she’s working on. More and more these days, she comes up with her own projects too. Recently, she proposed making a list of words in her own best handwriting for her sister to copy. Both kids thought this was the coolest. thing. ever. And I was supermom for “letting” them do it. Ha!

This is a sweet retired pony who lives at our new favorite place.

Meanwhile, we’ve added another activity. There’s a down-to-earth horse ranch about 40 minutes away (by car) and we’ve started lessons there. They even offer a homeschool program in which the kids get riding lessons, then an hour of other horse-related learning and activities after the lesson.

I knew animal-loving Selina would have the time of her life with the horses, (and she did!) but I didn’t know for sure what Nat would think. Turns out Nat is hooked for life. The day after her first lesson, Nat sat down and journaled at great length about the experience. My favorite line from her account was, “My teacher told me that I had to trot my horse, but my horse trotted me instead.” Since that first day, every single night before bed, she counts the days left until the next riding lesson and tells me she loves “her” horse.

Yep. I remember all that.

In fact, I’ll be taking a lesson of my own while the kids are doing their non-horse activities. I used to ride a lot when I was a kid/teen and could use my spending money to pay for lessons. The older I got the less cash I had for it and the less I’ve been able to do it. So I’m thrilled to have an excuse to start earnest lessons again. Cole will be taking some beginner lessons with the girls when she has some time later this summer, too. I can’t wait to see my whole family on horseback!

Homeschooling Notes from August and September

Barack Obama and William Shakespeare Enjoy a Tea Party

Last week, Selina threw a little tea party for Barack Obama and William Shakespeare. I thought the irony was worth a photo.

Selina’s favorite thing is “imaginative play.” She puts on little dramas all day long with blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, dress-up alter egos, her sister, and whatever inanimate object comes to hand to be animated. You may remember she even used to do this with her feet.

Sometimes, she creates fantasy people to “help” her with work by changing her voice and talking her way through a problem. For example:

Selina’s Voice: “What comes after K?”

High-pitched voice: “Is it M?”

Selina’s Voice, singing: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L…”

Low-Pitched Voice: “No, it’s L!”

High-Pitched Voice: “Whoops!”

Then Selina will find the “L” and put it on her alphabet project. She may or may not ask aloud again until she gets stuck and needs some more “help.”

Listening to her when she doesn’t know you are around is an absolute gas.

Last week, she let me know in no uncertain terms that although she has been asking to learn to read, she cannot abide out-of-context phonics lessons. Sooo…I went back to the drawing board and this morning she took the iPad around and snapped photos of some of her favorite things, like her Pooh bear.

Pooh

Tomorrow, I’ll print her photos and let her label them all and bind them into a “Selina’s Words” book.

Given her love of creating little dramas and characters all day long, I think she is going to be a write-first reading learner.

Teaching reading is fun for me, because Nat didn’t ever really “learn” to read, she just started doing it.

Perhaps Selina would do this eventually too (though I do think Nat’s brain was just prewired to read, at birth), but she has been complaining lately about not being able to read, so I’m stepping in to help her move along. She’s five and a quarter, so I feel it is perfectly reasonable to let her at it.

Speaking of Nat, though, and particularly of her reading, she recently picked up a slightly simplified version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (it amounts to a middle-grade novel as it’s been edited) and started reading it every night before bed–and any other time she could steal. It’s the first “chapter book” she’s shown a sustained interest in reading independently, though we’ve done a few together as read-alouds and she has always enjoyed picture books independently. She got so into Alice,though, that I have been able to pick up on her interest in the story to do a lot of work besides reading.

At Work on the Alice Chart

The first Alice work she did was thumb through the book and put sticky notes on each page where Alice changed size (this was her favorite aspect of the story). She found and recorded the page number, and Alice’s height on that page, then I gave her a roll of paper and a tape measure and she charted out “life-size” pictures of Alice throughout the book–from three inches to “taller than a tree.” Selina and I both helped color and decorate the Alices.

Nine-Foot Alice

One of my favorite aspects of the completed project is that Nat made Alice African American, in spite of her pervasive blondeness in so many of her popular incarnations. We taped our Alice chart to the wall in the hallway so we could admire it for a while.

The day after that, I gave Nat a list of household stuff and had her measure each item in inches and feet, using a tape measure or a ruler, depending on what worked best for the job.

But the next day, she wanted to get back to her obsession, so I had her write a “book report” (though I didn’t call it that), and she enthusiastically did so, raving about her love of Alice and drawing a lovely picture of her favorite scene.

She has seen three different movie adaptations of Alice and she likes the Disney animated one from 1951 best, because it includes scenes and characters she likes that the other versions she’s seen leave out.

Full disclosure: I have never been an Alice fan. In fact, I have always pretty much loathed Lewis Carroll. I mean, he was a dirty old man, and most of the book is a thinly disguised drugged-out political commentary. Plus, I just don’t like the weirdness. I am not a Kafka fan either. I don’t like my own wacky-to-nightmarish dreams and don’t care to read others’. But hey, that’s just me. Clearly this is a book, if not a genre, that Nat adores. So now I’m compiling ideas for other books she might like. Do leave your suggestions in the comments. Keep in mind that she is only seven, so stuff like Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, or Holes, while just the right reading level, are not going to ring a bell for her, in all likelihood.

One thing that has struck me since I started thinking in terms of school at home, is how much we can get done (academically, I mean) in a short amount of time. This is something I’ve heard a lot about from homeschoolers. I’ve heard more than one anecdote about blasting through a year of curriculum in four months, for example. We aren’t using a curriculum (unless “stuff Mama Shannon thinks would be good to introduce this month/week/today” counts as one), but if we were, I dare say we would be blasting too.

One of Nat’s downfalls in life is that she is highly distractable. One of her gifts is a love of and compassion towards people. I think this was tricky for her to handle in the classroom–even a classroom that allowed her lots of teacher attention and long periods of time to work on what interested her most. The simple fact is, if a kid walks by, she is more interested in that kid and what he’s doing than in the most interesting work of her own.

Last week I was plotting some subtraction practice work for her. (I have been using this websiteto make her crossword puzzles, including ones with written-out math problems. She likes to work the puzzles and I have found all kinds of ways to get her to think about different topics and disciplines via crossword.) Nat finds counters and fingers useful in doing addition and subtraction, but the problems I was doing went up and down from 100, and I didn’t want to have to deal with that many counters, so I decided to make her what Montessorians call a “Hundred Board.” Then of course, I realized that I ought to ask her to make it. More ruler work, lots of fine motor practice, reinforcement for counting to 100, etc. etc., right? So the next day I sat her down and gave her paper and a ruler and a pencil and eraser, gave her brief instructions to begin the chart (make a 10-inch square) and at each subsequent step (make ten one-inch columns…make ten one-inch rows…write out the numbers in alternating colors…cut out the chart…) and with me poking my head in the room every ten minutes to check on her progress, it was completely finished (including erasing and re-figuring out how to make the lines straight) in under an hour.

Nat’s Hundred Board

Now, this may make most of you shrug, but for Nat it’s an amazing accomplishment. I can only imagine the same task would have taken her a week of “work” periods in school last year, simply due to her tendency to get constantly distracted by other kids. As it is, she is super proud of her hundred board. Tomorrow I’m going to have her make a number line from 0-100, with a half-inch between the numbers and put it on the wall too. Then I’ll show her the subtraction puzzle and she can complete it with her math reference tools.

As for me, I’m really enjoying doing this with the kids. It isn’t a far step from my usual parenting style anyway, I just spend a little more thought on how we spend the two and a half hours set aside each morning for “work” (meaning academic work, though all day long we are working and learning in all kinds of ways). We follow a schedule every day, and I don’t mind sharing it with you:

Wake Up

1. Make your bed. 2. Clean up your room. 3. Eat breakfast. 4. Clean up the dining room. 5. Brush your teeth. 6. Get dressed. 7. Read quietly in your room.

9:00

Quiet Individual Work Time

11:30

Lunch/Clean up dining room

12:30

House Cleaning Time

Josiah calls this “Cinderella-ing.” But hey, scrubbing things is VERY Montessori. That’s what I’m gonna tell the authorities, anyway.

1:00

Afternoon Activities (different every day)

4:30

1. Supper/Clean up dining room 2. Evening Activities (different every day)

6:45

Begin bedtime routine.

“Afternoon Activities” might be continuing a project begun in the morning (Alice took all day). Or it might be free play in the girls’ room or a trip to the playground.

About once a week, Nat and I make a trip to the grocery store that entails a list of “things we need” and a list of “things we want” and a budget. Nat adds up the price of each “need” item as we put it in the cart and figure out how much we can afford from the “want” list, once we’ve got what we need. I sort of orchestrate this so that we can never get everything we want. This is probably good for me, as I haven’t been able to “afford” my favorite potato chips in weeks.

In a couple of weeks, the kids begin a soccer program that just teaches the game without any competition. This is good because my kids are not athletes just yet (Selina may well become one though). Chicago Parks and Recreation has all kinds of introductory sports programs and I just want them to get the basics of many things and see if any in particular strike them as special. They are doing dance on Saturdays too. Really, they need (Nat especially really truly needs) an hour of high-aerobic activity every day, but that’s a tough one for non-sporty me. We joined the Y too, though, so when the weather is too cold for the playground we can go there.

I could probably go on about this for another six posts, just about our first six weeks or so of earnest homeschooling. But I’ll wrap this up for now and check in again in a few weeks.

A Creative Interlude

One thing Nat has been doing a lot of lately, is writing. She often produces spontaneous poems or song lyrics when the mood strikes her. Yesterday, she was especially taken with the baptisms of two babies at church. She wrote this poem when she got home. I share it with her express permission.

Baptized Babies

Tomorrow, babies are baptized in the morning.
We baptized babies in the morning.
Yesterday, I baptized babies in the morning,
On Saturdays and Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Fridays.

by Natasha

I especially appreciate her use of the ancient Hebrew poetic device of repetition to drive home the theological undertones of the piece, don’t you?

Talking

One of the reasons I don’t write much here anymore is that fairly early on, I realized that Nat is a private person. She is reticent to talk much about important or complicated topics and I didn’t feel it was right for me to go on talking to the general public about her business if it was likely she was going to dislike it when she got old enough to realize I was doing it.

So while I’m not going to tell you exactly what she and I have been talking about lately, I do want to share that we have been talking.

I have heard that many times, adoptive parents assume that if kids aren’t talking/asking about something, they aren’t thinking about it. I have also heard that that assumption is usually proved wrong–sometimes in sad ways that might have been avoided with better communication.

In our case, Nat has typically been very unlikely to raise the topic of adoption or race or having same-sex parents, or any sensitive topics that affect her personally. But we have always talked about those things openly anyway, to try and make sure she grew up knowing that those topics were not secrets, shameful, or in any way threatening or off-limits. I could also get hints that Nat was thinking about these kinds of things from other sources–lately, she’s been writing stories, for example, that, while fictional, are exceptionally transparent! Also, Selina, who is a far less pensive kid, is much more open about these topics, bringing them up casually and frequently.

But in the past six months, Nat and I have had some really intense conversations, all initiated by her. In fact, long as six and a half years might have seemed to wait to hear her broach topics I’ve been chattering about to her all that time, her way of engaging has turned out to be (or at least seems to me, to be) quite precocious. We’ve had some difficult discussions that I had assumed we would have when she is a teenager. She’s only seven.

I wanted to break my general Nat silence to tell you this because you may be or may know an adoptive parent who is shy about bringing up these topics or is waiting for a child to bring them up first. I want to add my two cents to the pile of advice suggesting that we keep bringing things up. I feel like my persistence is beginning to pay off now, because my sweet, almost painfully empathetic kid has gotten the message that no matter how challenging the issue, she won’t hurt me with her honest feelings and I will always be on her side in difficulty.

Keep talking. Even if you get changes of subject, rolling eyes or silly faces, at any one moment, try, try again. Let them know you won’t shy away from any of their truth, no matter how hard.

Days: Long, Years: Short, Internet Friends: Real

Nat just turned seven. This is remarkable in and of itself, but what’s more so is that when I told Twitter, a half dozen people piped up with their “wows” and we all reminisced about, not so much how old our kids were all getting, but how long we have now known each other.

Everyone (in this Twitter chat) was someone I met via blogging, either before Nat was born or shortly after. Everyone was also someone I happen to have also met somewhere in three dimensions at conferences or on business trips. But even though these face-to-face meetings are great, and add something to the sense of “knowing” someone, they are hardly one percent of the substance of the friendships I’ve had for roughly seven years, with people I know as well or better than many I only know “in person” because we have shared some of the most important things about ourselves with each other, in more depth than is usually possible in the busy-ness of actual (versus virtual) reality.

I cherish my friends made in the old world of school and college and grad school and church and work and coffee shops. But in the new world of virtual life, I have been able to meet soul mates I never would have run into if I was limited by three dimensional space and a travel budget all but annihilated by the expense of raising kids in the city. In fact, I have become friends with people with whom I might have never become friends even if we saw each other on a regular basis because of differences in ability that the Internet more or less levels, allowing us to communicate more easily than we might in person.

I’m glad I have a foot in the old world of time and space limited by…well, time and space. It gives me a sense of the real value of those limits and the desire to artificially preserve them in some cases, for my better mental health. But it also gives me a real appreciation for the truly monumental shift of what it means to be human, now that, for much of the developed world, those time and space limits have been reduced to almost nothing by virtual reality and its relatively easy access. As limited as access still is (and I am personally, closely related to people with absolutely no access to it, so I am aware that it is by no mean universal), it is still perhaps a good deal more accessible than, for example, steamship travel was to most people when it became available.

I am not one to sing the unqualified praises of anything, let alone the Internet. But I do get annoyed sometimes, when I hear the Luddites grumping about the bad new days. There’s good, there’s bad, there’s a lot of “meh” in between, but here we are. And I have the new world to thank for some really wonderful people who have given me all kinds of support for my odd family over the years, including the simplest but perhaps most critical kind of support of just being odd themselves and letting me know we’re not alone.

Happy Friendship Anniversary, everyone–whether it’s exactly to the date or not. It’s been an unqualified blessing to know you.

Home School Update

Yes, yes, we put the kids in school. But I have mentioned before that this does not mean we are not still home schooling just about 24/7–as most parents do, without thinking of it in those terms.

One of the down sides of school for Nat, in particular has been that she is absolutely wiped out by school and we don’t have any time left to do much of anything else. That said, school is good. It about covers most of the things we want the kids to be doing anyway. It’s just that some of those things would be nice to do–or also do–at home, or otherwise within the family.

So. Weekends.

Cole signed the girls up for dance lessons on Saturday mornings and they do “creative movement” and “pre-ballet” and “hip-hop” for a total of an hour. I have to confess here, that if Selina were not the “Me Too!” baby sister of the family, I wouldn’t bother signing her up to continue. She wants to do what Nat is doing, but she really doesn’t seem all that interested in the dance classes per se. But it’s not a huge thing and so they go along with Cole and I sleep late on Saturday mornings. Sundays, one or both of them go to church with me and Cole gets the morning off.

So that has been about it as far as any official activities are concerned. Anything else you might call “home schooling” has been easy-breezy unschooling in the sense of just looking for chances to push their little brains a bit further in whatever direction they are wandering in at any given moment. Yesterday, Selina and I brainstormed jobs one can do when one grows up that involve spending lots of time with animals. We discussed being anything from a veterinarian to a rancher.

But lately I’ve been feeling guilty, given the importance food has in my parenting philosophy (which is the philosophy of MY parenting–not yours, so please do not misread here and think that I am being prescriptive for anyone else!), for not spending more concerted time in the kitchen with, at least, Nat, who is over six and a half now.

The recent BlogHer Book Club selection I’ve been reading and discussing (Lunch Wars)  has done nothing but deepen my chagrin. After reading about Jamie Oliver in Lunch Wars, I looked up Food Revolution on Hulu and Cole and I watched it obsessively. Now, it definitely has its shortcomings. Cole’s family is from West Virginia and the cultural and class aspects of the problem were, essentially, not discussed at all. But, it was network television, so they are hardly going to take on The Man, now are they? Otherwise, we found the thing moving and educational (if a little grand stand-y at times–but again with network television) and motivating.

Now, our poshy-posh-posh private Montessori school (for which we are exceptionally grateful every minute of every day) doesn’t do food service for most kids. But for the whole-day preschoolers, they cater in meals from a local company that provides all-organic, mostly locally-sourced food with a complete and attractive vegetarian option to schools and nursing homes and other institutions. I don’t know what it costs the parents at our school because we are not its market. But I pored over the website and discovered that the company won a grant to participate in programs to get food like theirs (and indeed their food) into the most underserved public schools in our area too, so that made me feel good about it. They are not just a luxury item for the wealthy, but a movement of a sort. Their food service also includes visits from a truck carrying veggies growing in pots and field trips for the school kids to visit farms, so it’s a very wholistic approach.

But it’s hardly a wide-spread phenomenon, and Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about this stuff suggested that every public high school graduate ought to be leaving school able to cook ten easy, healthy meals. That sounds wise to me. (Again with our poshy-posh-posh school–the 4th-6th grade room has a full kitchen where the kids cook meals for themselves and the staff and teachers on the reg.) I didn’t really learn to cook until Cole and I decided to adopt. Then I knew I wanted to give my kids a different food culture from the one I grew up with and I bought The Joy of Cooking and learned to boil an egg.

The upshot of my investigations into and thinking about all this is that I started feeling really guilty about not cooking with Nat.

So today we have started at the very beginning–”Get the colander” “What’s a colander?” Then we cleaned and chopped broccoli and cauliflower and potatoes (I helped her with the chef’s knife and am going to teach her to use it). We learned about how sometimes we put stuff into the compost, but sometimes (given our limited compost space and long winter) we put it down the garbage disposal. Yes indeed, we do. She and I are making a delicious soup.

The plan is to do this every Saturday.

Wish us luck.

Tiger Jo-Jo

They say that kids who live in a “language-rich environment” do better in school (whatev!) than kids who live in a language-poor environment. It think it’s safe to say my kids live in a language-rich environment, if the language is English. There are books in every room (this is an understatement–there is a whole library in every room) of the house, both parents have larger than average vocabularies and use them when speaking to the kids. We post signs to remind the kids of household mores, put notes in the lunch boxes, read the bulletin at church, the menus at restaurants, the advertising on buses, and stop and discuss new words and their meanings when we encounter them. We dictate their writing and/or let them do it themselves (whether fantastical, invented, or Webster’s perfect).

But I always wanted my kids to also grow up in a music-rich environment. I think of music as a language and had hoped my kids could learn it as a mother tongue. The trouble is, I can sing, but I can’t play any instruments. So I played recorded music for them a lot in babyhood, danced and counted time, sang the scales and all kinds of songs. I got a realistic toy piano and put the note letters on the keys with scrapbook stickers.

But none of that was really going to teach my kids music in a natural way and I knew it. At some point, I gave up and just banked on doing Suzuki when they were old enough.

Then Josiah came into our lives.

When we met Josiah, he didn’t know he was a musician, so music had nothing to do with our decision to welcome him into the family. But over the first year we knew him, he taught himself to play the guitar, and it was revealed that he is profoundly gifted in the music department. When I say “he taught himself to play guitar” I mean, he picked up a guitar, looked at YouTube, and within six months, was playing as well or better than people who’d been doing it for years. He has the kind of gift that makes people think a task is easy for everyone because it comes to them like breathing. Since learning guitar, Josiah has dabbled in ukelele, mandolin, banjo and is now branching out to saxophone and wants to get some keyboards and on and on and on.

His new Life Plan is to learn to build and repair guitars from this guy, make a living that way, and make music with his friends for fun.

Suddenly the kids live a super music-rich environment.

I would estimate that Josiah plays around the house–often directly for the children–about 3 hours per day on average. A lot of this is learning time–teaching himself new things–while the kids just “hang out” with him or nearby, overhearing the whole process.

Now he’s been taking Nat one-on-one with the little kid-sized guitar we bought her and helping her learn actual chords for a few minutes every single day. She did not enjoy this much at first. She liked to strum and had good form according to Josiah, but hated doing the chords because it hurt her fingers. But after about six weeks of 5-10 minutes an evening, she’s finally rounded a corner and they are learning to play “You are my Sunshine” together.

A big part of rounding this corner, I must reluctantly admit, was the acquisition of a Wii. Cole, Josiah and Nat scored it while Selina and I were out of town and I came home to a kid who now says “I beat the level!” whenever she accomplishes something. I don’t think she actually knows what this means, but she talks like this and it freaks me out. All the same, I have the Wii to thank for the new guitar enthusiasm.

You see, I declared, upon arriving home to the new regime, that Nat could play Wii for exactly the same number of minutes per day she worked on guitar with Josiah. Now she tries really hard to extend her practice time. Last night it was 12 minutes. (I know these are tiny times, but for Nat, both guitar-wise and Wii-wise, they work just right.)

It only took a week of Wii-inspired extra guitar work to get Nat to stop complaining about sore fingers and excited about playing guitar for its own sake. Josiah estimates that in a month HE will be enjoying it too. For now, he says it’s like pulling teeth.

I guess we’ll still probably do Suzuki, but it can wait a bit. And meanwhile, the kids are getting exactly what I had hoped for them when they were babies. All through the dumb luck of finding Josiah.

I have also learned that a Wii can be a powerful motivator. I have all kinds of plans to use it strategically in the future.

How about you? Do you have a Wii or the like? How do you regulate/strategically make use of it?

Close Encounters of the Barbie Hair Kind

I have managed to protect Nat from Barbie exposure for nigh on six years. But yesterday, the day before her sixth birthday, we were playing at a friend’s house and that friend had a big sister with a Barbie.

Nat was drawn to the Barbie with some kind of bizarro 6-year old homing instinct and immediately began stroking and combing her long, yellow, plastic hair in a trance-like state. The older girl, E, had only just found the Barbie herself, her father having hidden it with other objectionable toys given to his children by others, in a secret cabinet. E’s mother rolled her eyes. “it’s like crack,” she lamented.

E herself is a half-Southeast Asian, half-white girl with parents in an interracial marriage. Her hair is straight as a stick, but she longs for African American hair. Her mother told me that she wanted braids with beads and when she saw Nat’s locs (Nat and E’s brother are in the same class and she is at the same school a couple of years ahead of them), she wanted some, too. Her mother said “honey, it would just take a very long time for your hair to lock. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you.” All the same, the kid was as enraptured with Nat and Selina’s hair as Nat was with the newfound Barbie.

I was watching Nat, trying to downplay the whole thing, yet squirming with unease internally, when little E took the Barbie from Nat and declared, “I know, Nat! Let’s put locs in Barbie’s hair!”

“Okay!” said Nat. And off they ran to E’s room.

I was never so grateful to a child in my life. Here’s hoping this relationship sticks over the years.

And no, I have no idea how one goes about locking Barbie hair, but I’m sure where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Why Do They Insist on Calling it Gifted?

“Gifted” has always meant one thing to me: over-privileged child of parents who are convinced the galaxy revolves around their precious, precious offspring.

All kids are “gifted,” right?  All kids have some unique, amazing offering to the universe that no one ever made before in quite the same way.  As much as it is true that there is nothing new under the sun, I have always also (perhaps paradoxically) felt in my bones that God never made the same thing twice.  Every child is a gift.

So, how to explain that thing about Nat that makes her so different from other kids her age, and so like the various kids described in the articles I’ve finally broken down and started reading about “gifted” children?  I don’t have another word for it, but Nat’s brain doesn’t work in a typical way.  Our recent parent-teacher conferences brought this home to me more profoundly than ever, and most of all, it brought home the fact that I need to attend to Nat’s difference.  I need language for it so that I can advocate for her when she proves herself to be a bit of a cog in the classroom machinery, however charming and beloved a cog (which she is—the teachers and other kids adore her.)

On a side note, I’ve read a few articles and found my head bobbing as kids from about 10-17 are being described in typical school situations as “underachievers.”  Ever since I started looking at the home school literature (especially the classics like Teach Your Own by John Holt, thanks to Dawn’s recommendation), I have found myself remembering my own school experiences as being full of busywork—maybe 80-90% busywork, in fact.  Perhaps the only work I didn’t find to be so easy I could spit it out in half-time with my hands tied behind my back was Math, and lo and behold, if that didn’t turn out to be due to my refusal to put any effort into it (thanks to Ms. Hernon of Algebra II for this revelation).  Most of the real learning I did—the ah-ha moments I still remember from childhood here in middle age—happened in the corner of my bedroom floor, with my “nose stuck in a book” as my folks used to say.  It was remembering these things that initially drew me to homeschooling with a hearty helping of UNschooling as the main course for my own kids’ educations.

Now that we’ve settled on a school situation (for now), I am seeing that even the school we’ve found, with its kid-led curriculum and low student/teacher ratio has routines that can be defied by the weirdest of the weird kids that grace its halls.  And Nat is one of those.  Apparently, her seeming lack of self-motivation persists to her mid-kindergarten year, as strong as it was when she was 9 months old and absolutely refused to crawl.  We’d put a desired object just out of reach to encourage her to rock forward even a tiny bit, but as soon as she realized she would have to move for it, she’d drop all interest and play with carpet fuzz instead.  Apparently, with a dazzling array of challenges in her classroom, Nat still mostly prefers to work at tried-and-true projects she has known well for the past year and only works on one new or difficult thing a day at the teacher’s gentle urging.  (You know what she’s also doing, though?  She’s teaching the younger children those familiar tasks.)

So much for offering challenging options as an antidote to underachieving.

And yet, and yet… Even when she was a baby, her lack of interest in doing ordinary baby things (you know, like crawling) always made me feel that she was doing something else instead.  We even took her to a developmental specialist at 17 months, when she wasn’t pulling herself up (except on my body—clue to the problem) and he found that she had no developmental delays, was rather ahead in many areas (namely, language and other intellectual, rather than motor areas) and didn’t pull up unless she was particularly motivated to do so (to get nearer to me, for example).  He ruled her reluctance to engage a mere idiosyncrasy of personality, which had been my private theory all along.

Another private theory of mine was (and is) that when she is not doing what the other kids are doing, she is doing something else all her own.  For example, at 17 months, when she wasn’t pulling up, we accidentally discovered that she could identify all the alphabet letters and could spell, fingerspell and recognize her written name.  Okay “N-A-T” is pretty easy.  But within six months, she was memorizing sight words after one exposure, spelling and finger spelling them too—about 30 words in all.  In another six months, she was sounding out short words without ever being taught to do it and in another six months, she was starting to read sentences on public signs and direct me according to their instructions—again, without prompting, because seriously, who wants a three-year old telling her where to park, or not park or how fast to drive the car?

I posit that as is the case with typical development in children so young, Nat was too busy doing X to master (or spend time practicing) Y.  And that’s what I think she’s still doing now.  What will her brain pop out with next week that lets us all know what she’s been working on when she hasn’t been doing whatever the teacher has suggested she do?  I want her to learn to “get along” as needed in a classroom with its boundaries (especially in a classroom with as respectful, child-centered boundaries as Nat’s), and I trust the teacher’s near-thirty years of experience to know something different than I know about what is good for Nat.  But I also have this little unschooling voice in the back of my head that whispers “leave her alone, she knows what she’s doing and what she needs.”

Meanwhile, I’m looking for the language to explain this, to defend it, to promote it for Nat’s sake.  Don’t get me wrong, the teachers are absolutely on our side.  But they say Nat is an anomaly, and what to do with her is a matter about which reasonable people who share the same side might disagree or at least question each other.  Besides, I’m just curious.  If Nat’s brain is atypical, what is it up to?  I want to know because she’s my child and that makes her the most fascinating subject in the world to me—if not the precious, precious offspring around which the galaxy revolves.

And just to keep things interesting, Selina is proving to be a whole other ball of wax, but a cog in her own special way, too.  Stay tuned.