Category Archives: Nat A-Go-Go

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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.