Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Um, how about a machete instead?

In the interest of practicing what I preach, I've been thinking about gettting my two older boys their own jackknives this summer. They might get cut, or not. But either way, they might learn to respect that some things require extra thought and consideration to use. They might do some independent exploration. They can learn some responsibility.

So, I thought that I would talk with them about the possibility.

I said, "I have been thinking that maybe you should learn some responsibility", insert eyeroll here. "I was thinking that, if you can demonstrate that you know the difference between tools and toys, I might be able to buy you a sort of tool". Now I had their attention.

I continued, "Toys are multi-purpose things that you can be creative and use in many different ways, where tools have a specific type of use. When you are done using a tool for its intended purpose - you clean it and put it back where it belongs".

They are still wide-eyed. "Mom, what kind of tool are you thinking about?" They are nearly jumping out of their table spots now.

"Well," I said, "I'm thinking that you may be old enough to own a jackknife - but, you'd have to show me that you know how to use a tool first".

My middle child jumps out of his seat "Oh, mom, then you could buy us one of those things".


"You know, one of those things, the flat wall-like thing with the target so we can practice throwing the knives and they can stick in it!?!"


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shouting, crying, rolling on the floor - full out tantrum.

And, that was just me. You should've seen Z, my eight-year-old, while we tried to get his homework done. It would be a bit more compelling if I really believed in the work he was doing. But, honestly, I feel like we are all wasting time could be spent outside - catching bugs and riding bikes (all of us).

I commented last week on StopHomework.com. Sarah, the owner of that blog, asked if I might guest post - and I'm working on it, I promise.


Here is my problem: My philosophical problems with homework, both in general and in its usual implementation are all over the place.

I want to write:

  • how education is screwing our children out of opportunities to be creative and innovative, I've already touched on that here.
  • how ridiculous and wrong it is for our schools to simultaneously bemoan the obesity epidemic in the USA while having our kids sit behind desks plugging away at worksheets for six hours every day then sending them home with more work to do in lieu of playing outside.
  • how traditional school assignments that spell out every last detail of the assignment (except for actually doing it for the kid) paralyze student's ability to create, modify, and respond to assignments that require critical thinking, judgment, and innovation.
  • how appalled I am at how little outdoor exploration is included in education. Understanding the resources we rely upon and the world around us should be integral to our education. Short "nature walks" where we point at stuff is not a replacement for getting dirty, discovering wild nettles, poison ivy, ants, and other creepy crawlies. To further explore this, read Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" - he is far more eloquent than I am.
  • how, under the guise of safety, we are restricting any independent exploration of children. To grow healthy and responsible, kids need to learn to be responsible for themselves (in appropriate doses and with instruction - of course). I regularly see college students that literally panic in situtations that require a little trouble-shooting (vans break down on college trip, airline delays, illness during test period, regular bumps and bruises, scary flying insects outside, etc.). Sometimes, I think that the most valuable thing my students learn on field trips is how to deal with everyday life-time nuisances without calling Daddy on their cell phones.
  • why it is that teachers feel compelled to send some work home, whether or not it will provide a valuable learning opportunity.
  • how my philosophy of giving assignments in the classroom has changed since I have seriously considered exactly what it will take to satisfy my demand and what they are expected to get out of the exercise. That is, be willing to either actually do (I have done this), or imagine doing the assignment yourself. That may change the amount or type of assignments that you require.
  • how my philosophy of work has changed toward empowering students to make choices. Where possible, the students (all together) select assignment due dates, pick between possible assignments, or select readings (from a list of appropriate ones). It makes a task less onerous if students have been empowered to make choices.
  • when we will include allowing children to learn independence in the list of educational goals, even if that requires sometimes letting kids make mistakes. When I was a kid (yes, I walked uphill, both ways) I took a chemistry class where we played with fire, threw sodium into water (it was FUN), made chlorine gas. In biology, we used scalpels to dissect animals, and grew E. coli. We went fishing for the fishing club. And, all of these experiences were in sixth grade! I was allowed empowered to be an indpendent person from an early age, with the caveat that being responsible went with the independence. So many of my college students simply don't know how to accept responsibility for their own actions, which also means that they can't fully appreciate their accomplishments either (how sad).

In answer to your burning question: I decided that I've already passed second grade - I don't need to worry about second grade homework. Does Yale University reject incoming students because they didn't write about Egypt in second grade?

I told Z, "Do it or don't do it. If you don't, you will fail the assignment and that would be your problem. Also, if you don't finish it you won't get to read tonight in bed (reading is his absolute favorite thing in life). But, it is up to you."

Then, I told him to ask for assistance if he needs it, but I'm going outside with B (younger brother).

He thought about it for awhile, then he did his homework.

And, my head didn't explode. What a mess that would have been!

Prince Charming

Last night I smirked through the entire kindergarten play. They did a fractured version of Goldlilocks and the Three Bears that had, embedded, Little Red Riding Hood, and several other fairy tales including - Cinderella.

My handsome young man was Prince Charming.

I was sent out (last week, late, ill-planned, and frazzled) one evening to pick-up panic in Target about what might make him look like a Prince.

I bought him black dress pants, a long white t-shirt (tunic?), and a purple scarf to tie his tunic with. His teacher added her fifth grader's dress jacket to the costume. He had made a crown for himself.

He was handsome and charming.

Hilariously, however, throughout the entire play he channeled a disaffected teenager. While he sat, he sat with legs splayed and looked bored. While everyone stood, sang, and did the cute, coordinated hand movements (made grand smiley gestures with hands whilst singing about smiles) - he stood on one foot, arms crossed, and mouthed the words.

He was engaged and charming while slipping the slipper onto Cinderella's foot - then, swaggered back to his place on the riser.

A few times, I caught his eye, then I could make him break into a giant grin. Other than that, my boy was just too cool for all of it.

Too funny!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tick City

We went for a hike yesterday to get some exercise. We had a lovely excursion. However, it amounted to precious little exercise (duh, four-year-olds don't really "hike").

J got some exercise trucking along with the big boys. I gave them some insect vials and the camelpack backpack loaded with snacks. They had a grand time.

T and I muddled along, hopping, jumping, skipping, sitting, whining, and watching bugs. We moved at a painfully slow snail pace. Honestly, I felt like a somnambulist about half-way through.

But, on the plus side, we say a garter snake (T got to pet it as it zipped away), a black racer, a black rat snake, a mama duck with babies, turtles, bees, ants (which T stomped on), spiders (we played with some), crickets, and a variety of other stuff.

I successfully kept T from playing with poison ivy, but was able to let him smell sassafras and black birch.

Then, when we got home, the great tick-finding extravaganza began and didn't finish for the rest of the night. I took about four of them off of us on the trail. I pulled one out of my hair and one from my hip right when I got home. Then changed all of my clothes and brushed through my hair. Z looked himself over when he got home as did J and B.

By dinner time, we had re-examined ourselves and all found more of them. So, in B's words - we became "naked family". Everyone but me was stripped to the skin in the kitchen... we pulled two more ticks from Z, three from B and (I think) EIGHT from little T. J went back through my hair and I looked myself over again in the bathroom.

Then - while watching late-night tv last night, I pulled another one off of my stomach that was just walking around.

Wow, early tick season here.

Happy Mother's Day

J and the boys surprised me early for Mother's Day.

When I got home from work on Saturday, the house was clean, the laundry and dishes done, and two things knocked off of the "honeydo" list.

My family is awesome!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kids say the darndest things.

The kids were examining a magazine in the back of the car and found a vehicle that converts from car to plane.

Z is outraged.

"I can't believe that they invented that... I wanted to do that. I wanted to invent that, and they got to do it first. They get to spend all of their time inventing, and all I get to do is... grow."

Too funny.

Staring at the summer.

From this side, the summer always looks like a vast empty space of idyllic hot days and room for loads of productivity. But, I know better.

I see lots of opportunities for sloth, lots of thunderstorms, and then it's gone in a flash (of lightning).

This summer, I have to find a way to make the most of the short time I have. And, I mean that both in terms of having fun with my still-young boys and kicking some work ass (and having some quiet time).

This really means putting my plan into action. No, not the evil, cackling plan. Just the one that has me spend less time staring off into space and more time accomplishing both fun and work.

It's time to change, folks.