Category Archives: School

Busy Kids

Here’s why SillyBilly has been busy lately:

We struggled with the idea of him joining scouts for a long time: the discrimination issue, the selling of things, etc. But in the end we decided the benefits outweighed those more abstract problems. He’s already had a lot of fun, gets to have time with his Papa every week, and will have lots of good adventures and learning from it. Now if only the meetings weren’t at 7 pm — that’s bedtime!

Here’s what’s keeping both of them busy:

They both are reading FIENDS. SillyBilly and Napoleona are both rather enamored of the Magic Tree House series — recently they’ve read the ones about Ancient Egypt, Pompeii, Mozart, and Leonardo da Vinci. When we took that trip to Montana, almost the entire 4-hour drive was completely silent — a first, I assure you.

SillyBilly is in first grade, Napoleona in kindergarten. They’re both reading at about the third grade level. It’s not the Waldorf way, but it also came relatively spontaneously, especially for Napoleona. And it’s just genetic — Anthropapa and I were very early readers.

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Filed under Books, Napoleona, papa, School, SillyBilly

Pre-hiatus Update

Dear Bloggy Friends,

I must pause. Not to reflect, but to get everything else done.

We plan to close on our house on Sept. 8. Of course this has meant numerous phone calls, meetings, and appointments. We’ve got a lot of financial wrangling yet to do — buying appliances, applying for our government’s wonderful offer of $8,000, and much more. And at some point I need to start packing.

I’m registered for History 101, and have made myself known to much of the history faculty. In doing so, I got myself signed up to do a Public History internship, in which I will help research and fact check on an upcoming book celebrating the anniversary of the Idaho Museum of Natural History here on campus. In the future I might also assist with the scholarly journals the department produces. I saw the gleam in a few professors’ eyes when they heard I was an editor of scholarly humanities books, so that might be a source of future paying work, as well. And at some point before December I need to take the GRE and figure out who can write references for my grad school application.

The kids start school tomorrow. In trying to balance my work, my classes, and their needs, I’ve signed Napoleona up for after-care three days a week, so that I have the entire day free for work and my courses. But the other two days, I’ll be taking Anthropapa to work at 8:00, the kids to school at 8:30, returning to pick up Napoleona at 11:15, returning to pick up SillyBilly at 3:00, and picking up Anthropapa at 5:00. Clearly, we need a second car. And at some point I need to figure out when I can volunteer in the kids’ classrooms.

I’m plugging away on my current manuscript, an examination of the role of emotions in US history. Then I’ve got 2 or 3 more to do next month. The next few months will be a huge test to see who I can balance maintaining my work load along with going to school. And at some point I need to find some new clients.

I’m also volunteering as the Chapter Development Coordinator for the EFA. It’s not too onerous, but some days it seems to take up more than a few hours of otherwise precious time. I like contributing to the organization that has provided me with so many benefits, but right now it’s yet another thing in the mix. And at some point I need to write up all the policies and procedures that go with the job.

So, my friends. I can’t keep up. I can’t even get to read all of your wonderful blogs, no less comment thoughtfully. No less write my own blog posts. So I’m officially going on hiatus, until such time as I have enough time and energy to share. Retaining the right, of course, to pop up at any time randomly.

Love,

Anthromama

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Filed under editing, Family, freelancing, life, Napoleona, papa, School, SillyBilly

Darwin, Gradually

Having finally finished the unpleasant book about psychopathic killers, I have gone back to finish editing a series of essays about Charles Darwin. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, so he’s being feted and written about left and right.

This evening Anthropapa came across this bit of artwork, which is very funny and fits so nicely with my current project:

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

Evolution is in the air right now. There’s my editing project, of course.

And then there’s the state of Texas. The public school science curriculum standards have been amended by the state board of education to require that students consider “all sides of scientific evidence.” Hey, that’s what the scientific method is all about, right?

I’d be a wee bit more supportive of Texas’s standards on critical thinking if it weren’t for the fact that it seems clear that what the NY Times so delicately calls “social conservatives” on the board are trying to push their avowedly creationist agenda into the curriculum, by systematically deleting references to such things as the specific age of the Earth from the science standards.

It is also certainly troubling that potentially, “publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools,” when essentially the only criticism of evolution is intelligent design (which as a religious belief, is lacking in the scientific evidence the board wants students to consider!) Texas is such a huge market for textbooks that their decisions affect textbook publishing as a whole in the US.

On the other hand, I wish scientists criticizing the board’s decision would be at least acknowledge that analysis, questioning, and not accepting estimates as fact are all part of critical thinking. Sure, Southern states (and, oddly, Pennsylvania) have a history of creationists trying very hard to use the idea of “balance” or “equal consideration” to get their beliefs taught in schools. But in the end, embracing the scientific method does not mean checking criticism at the door and accepting anything dogmatically.

(And if you’re wondering, I don’t believe in a “young Earth” but I do believe in a creator. I also believe that creator may very well have also set the processes of evolution in motion for his or her own purposes. However, I won’t support teaching any of that in public schools.)

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Filed under Books, editing, Rants, Religion, School, Science

SillyBilly’s Science Project

QUESTION: What would you like to find out?

What does mold need to grow?

HYPOTHESIS: What do you predict will happen when you do your experiment?

I think mold needs food and water to grow.

PROCEDURE: What will you do to test the prediction of your experiment?

I will put things in plastic bags and let them sit for a week. Some things are wet and some are dry. Some things are food and some are not.

ANALYZING RESULTS: What happened?

The bread, cheese, and wet paper got moldy. The dry paper, dirt, water, potato, and dried beans did not.

The dried beans and dry paper did not have water. The water did not have food. I think the paper is food for the mold.

Why didn’t the dirt and potato get moldy?

1. The dirt did not have food for the mold.
2. The mold needed longer than one week to grow.
3. The mold is too small to see.

SillyBilly had to explain his experiment to his classmates and a judge. He received “outstanding” marks (N.B.: the choices were “good” and “outstanding”.) and the judge congratulated him for the amount of thought he put into the experiment. The children were graded on whether they completed the steps of the scientific method (the headings in bold).

We were really stumped by the mold-free potato. We thought for sure that the potato had the requisite food and water. I wonder, aside from the three possibilities listed, if potatoes have a mold-repelling chemical in them? Something to investigate in the future.

Great job, SillyBilly!

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Pride

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about SillyBilly’s classroom. About how I was unhappy with certain aspects of the pedagogy and curriculum, and how I was worried about competitiveness at such an early age.

Some of those concerns have died down or disappeared. SillyBilly is now fine with D’Nealian handwriting. He still loves school, and the competitiveness is not at all directed at besting others but rather at achieving goals. I volunteer in the class twice a month, and have gotten to know and love the teacher and the children.

But I’ve noticed something. Parents are expected to read books to the kids at home and then the kids have comprehension (and now, vocabulary as well) tests in the classroom. SillyBilly has exceeded the goals (number of tests taken and passing scores) in each scoring period. This trimester his average book level was at third grade, and he has correctly defined words solidly in the third- to fourth-grade range on up to seventh grade!

I was like this as a child, too. I learned to read at age four, and was always at a much higher grade level in reading. I clearly remember in fourth grade going to reading class with the sixth graders, and being bored there, too.

Clearly verbal skills have been a strength for me, and they are for SillyBilly, too. And I’m noticing myself being very proud of him (justifiably so) and not necessarily looking at the big picture. Maybe this kind of pedagogy is fine for him, as it is playing to his strengths. But am I not really paying attention? What are his weaknesses that need to be brought into balance? Am I providing enough physical and artistic activity to offset the intellectual emphasis?

These are hard questions, as Anthropapa and I both tend to be intellectual (in anthroposophical-speak, we emphasize the nerve-sense pole) at the expense of physical activity. Art is somewhere in the middle with us.

It’s always been a question for me: Is it more important to meet the child where he or she is in terms of strengths, or to provide balancing activities? I think the key is to observe, observe, observe — is the child blossoming in areas of strength, or are deleterious effects arising from overemphasis on a certain aspect?

Have you experienced this, either with children or yourself — this need for balance and the need for playing to strengths? What was your answer?

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, papa, Parenting, School, SillyBilly, waldorf education

Homeschool Days

SillyBilly’s school was closed today, yesterday he was off of school for a dentist’s appointment, and he will have the entire next week off too (teacher conferences and inservices). So, I’ve been thinking of this as a temporary homeschooling opportunity.

We’ve been taking walks:

Today was very cold and cloudy. There is a dusting of snow on the mountains to the south. SillyBilly was prospecting for rocks; he’s holding a rock, his toilet-paper-tube binoculars, and a construction paper pouch he made to hold treasures. We brought home several large rocks, which he scrubbed clean in the sink and then investigated thoroughly. I think the boy needs a book about minerals for Christmas!

We’ve been playing with masks:

This one was a cutout from the latest issue of Ladybug magazine, to go with a seasonal story about a snowshoe hare. For some reason, our cats totally freaked out over the kids wearing this mask. Puffy tails, arched backs, even hissing. We think they thought the kids were turning into some sort of large animal, yet still smelled the same, and the cats’ tiny brains just couldn’t handle it.

We’ve been making a new nature table:

SillyBilly did this one all by himself. We found a cool arch of bark on a walk, and he made it into a gnome’s cave, complete with hanging doorbell, mushroom garden, and a mossy bed.

We’ve been cooking:

SillyBilly made lunch for us today. And he did it all: choosing and preparing the food, the beautiful presentation, and setting the table. I especially liked the celery leaf garnish atop the sandwiches. He also helped make apple cranberry crisp for dessert tonight.

We’ve been sewing:

He wanted to make the cats a treat, so we hand sewed  a little square and filled it with catnip. Above you see the cat playing with his new lovey, the catnip pouch. Here’s the cat in his normal state:

And here’s the cat in post-drug use torpor (note the glazed look in his eyes. Of course the cat’s 14 years old, so he often looks like this anyway). SillyBilly also made this little “house” for the cats from a box and some play cloths:

And we’ve been taking pictures (obviously):

I let SillyBilly use my camera as he’s shown that he can be careful with it, and remember how to use it, and because he pesters me often enough. He ran around the house taking shots of random things. I praised him for this one’s nice composition (my nightstand — pardon the mess!) He also took a picture of me knitting, but I can’t share it as I was making a super-secret Christmas present.

We’ve also been reading a lot. Both SillyBilly and Napoleona are on the cusp of reading — sounding out lots of words, figuring out how words are spelled all on their own, and recognizing short words on the page. They’ve also been enjoying spouting math facts: I heard Napoleona say quite loudly “Five and five and one are ELEVEN!” while using the toilet tonight. She’s four years old. I’m scared!

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Filed under Crafting, Family, Food, Kid Talk, Napoleona, Nature tables, Parenting, play, School, Silliness and Mayhem, SillyBilly

School Days

I volunteered in SillyBilly’s classroom this last Wednesday, but I wanted to let it percolate a while before writing about it. It is just so not Waldorf, that I hesitate to write about all of this, for fear of alienating my loyal readers!

One big impression was that the classroom was really, really full. Full of stuff, visual stimuli everywhere. The walls were covered with posters and words and letters and bright colors. There really isn’t a lot of room to move around–there’s an open space in front of the blackboard (though I think it’s actually a white board, with pens instead of chalk–peeuw!) where the kids sit for stories and working with the teacher, but otherwise it’s all tables and chairs and toys and cubbies and cabinets.

The curriculum is mostly focused on reading and writing skills. The school has bought into a reading program where the kids read a book (or in this case, are read to) and then they take a reading comprehension test, which is all recorded on a computer that stores and prints out the results. The kids do this in class with their teacher, but they are also expected to read at home and then be tested on those books too. I wasn’t aware that the home reading portion had a targeted level of achievement; I thought it was just for extra credit, but no, we are already behind!

The kids practice writing letters using the D’Nealian form of writing. SillyBilly is a bit confused, because we had shown him block printing capitals before when he expressed interest in writing. I know he’ll get the hang of it because he has very good fine motor skills, but right now he’s kind of frustrated. The teacher said it’s a problem with choosing D’Nealian, because though they think it makes it easier to learn cursive later, all the kids tend to learn block printing in preschool.

One thing I helped with was giving a few of the kids a short assessment test. The paper had groups of three objects in a line of three groups, and the question would be something like, “Which group includes only things that fly?” And one group would have just birds and airplanes, but another might have one bird, one lightbulb, and one sea turtle (which kind of looks like it’s flying). I guess this was testing their comprehension of groups, kind of like the old Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the others” song.

There are a lot of “incentives”. Finish 10 homework sheets (again, I thought they were extra, but they seem to be expected/required) and get a gift certificate for a cheeseburger. Didn’t have any incidents of bad behavior? You get to choose something from the treasure box on Friday. Pass enough reading tests and you get to buy a book from the school store. Now, one day SillyBilly told us that he thought he just wanted to do the homework and reading tests so that he could learn stuff, not to get stuff. We were amazed at this pronouncement and praised his maturity. But I’m not sure if that sentiment will stand in the face of all the goodies.

There is, of course, time for play. They play outside several times a day (even more in the afternoon daycare portion), have snacks, play inside with play dough and toys, have formal PE twice a week, art and music once a week each. The teacher is a very nice person, who is clearly committed to being the best teacher she can.

But…I wish it were more beautiful there. I wish there was more time for free play. I wish it weren’t so academic. I worry that it’s overstimulating and breathless for SillyBilly.

I wish there weren’t already elements of competition in kindergarten, though I am just as guilty of this: the homework star chart is prominently displayed, and I noticed that SillyBilly and another child were tied for last. He’s only done two reading tests, and has scored 80%. I realized that I was having an inner dialogue about how I almost always got straight A’s and how I know he’s smart enough to do the same, and how I seem to be slacking on making sure he does his reading tests and homework…. And it’s just kindergarten, for heaven’s sake!

In general, I feel like if we are going to make the choice to send SillyBilly to a mainstream school, then this is a good choice. The school does try to provide a safe, child-centered environment, and within the paradigm of mainstream academics, they are very successful. The staff there are very personable (I am always greeted by name by the principal, even though it’s not a small school) and I have trust in them to keep my child’s best interests at heart.

If only it were a Waldorf school….

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