Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Quick Update without pictures

I know I promised pictures about the outfits I've been making, but I haven't finished one of them and I only want to take Halloween costume pictures once, so expect pictures around Halloween.

I have completed the Tiger costume for the Pillowfight Fairy. I'm still in the fabric cutting stage with the Adrenaline Junkie's fancy dress (It's a lot of fabric and I can't do it safely and sanely when the kids are awake, so I wait until I'm in the mood in the evenings... I haven't been in the mood tonight so you get an update instead).

We just came off a week's vacation from school. I find these vacations every six weeks to very good for us to relax and remember that we like to do other things too. I also find that the first few days back to school are horrible. The Fairy manage to drag her heels worse than usual the first day back and as a result we both had a really bad day back. A wise man I once knew had a saying that grated on the nerves: "There are no bad days, only bad attitudes." The older I get the more I understand why that saying bothers most people. It is because it is true and we know it, we just want the comforting thought that the quality of my day is out of my control, so I can blame someone other than myself. So with that in mind, I will rephrase my statement, we both had really bad attitudes by the time the day was over.

Sometimes I wonder if the joy of the vacation can make up for the first day back at school. Fortunately, I see improvement in just a few days as we get back into a routine. I know my kids. They like the freedom they get with vacations, and therefore want it to continue. When discipline returns, they fight it like it is the enemy. However, I can soon tell that they are actually happier with a disciplined life. In the disciplined life they know what to expect. In the disciplined life they do a variety of things and get things accomplished. That feels good. On vacation they get to watch more and longer videos. On vacation they get to play computer games. On vacation they get to do so much more of their favorite things. They also seem to get bogged down in making choices among all the fun things they could do. They find it suddenly appealing to read whole books for fun, when they used to complain about being asked to read a paragraph of schoolwork. They write stories for half the day when they usually complain "how many sentences? That's too many!" I'm amused at how much school they incorporate into play when they no longer feel the daily school pressure. So if they love it when we aren't doing school, I suppose the question is why don't we follow the "unschooling" approach. Basically, It's because we know our kids. They only love the stuff they already know. They hate with a passion anything they still have to learn because it is a) unknown, b) harder than what they are used to, c) they aren't good at it yet, d) they would rather have an easy, ignorant life, and e) all of the above. Our kids are pretty lazy when left to their own devices. I would love for my kids to be willing, eager, self-learners. However, that requires self-discipline. Self-discipline comes with self-control and an awareness of the different outcomes resulting from disciplined behavior and undisciplined behavior.

During our school times, I provide discipline to accomplish the schoolwork to help our kids improve their skills. When they cooperate, things go smoothly and they make rapid progress. When they don't cooperate, they don't make progress and the monotony of Mommy telling her child to get back to her work is an annoying, repetative drone. One day I was so fed up with the distractableness of my daughter that I stopped nagging and simply told her that I would make a tally mark for everytime I saw her distracted from her work. When she was done, she would have additional work in writing sentences for every tally mark on my sheet. It was amazing how focused she was after that. That particular day she only had to write two extra sentences. One of which was because she stopped her work at one point to ask me if I had done a tally mark. My goal is that I provide the discipline until they are mature enough to choose to discipline themselves. I also have to provide them with opportunities to see both sides of the choice, so that they understand the results of the choice. So we will continue to have school weeks and holiday weeks, even though the transition can be bumpy.

As of this last holiday, we are a third of the way through our school year. Our half-way point comes at Thanksgiving. This is a perfect time to stop and evaluate how things are going. The Fairy has been reading real chapter books from the library. They are short, but they have real chapters in the story, not chapters that could be stand alone stories. So far I've managed to find two at the library she really loved. The first was about a Llama named Harley. The second was a book titled "Birthday Pony." Both were stories from the real world not a make believe world. I am very pleased that she has been enjoying these. She has completed her lessons in cursive writing. From here on out we will be practicing what she knows. Three days a week I will be having her write her assignments in cursive. Two days a week she will be doing assignments in print. I am doing this so that she gets continued practice at both methods for a while. She is still a new enough writer, that I don't want her to lose one method so early on. She has been enjoying her science lessons. We have been concentrating on weather in the last six weeks. We will move on to studying how natural forces effect people around the world for our next segment of lessons. Her least favorite subject is math although she is actually very good at it. She doesn't like the repetition, but she needs it to really solidify her understanding.

As we begin a new six-week segment of lessons, I try to challenge her a little more. I'm being more of a stickler for proper capitalization and neatness of writing (before I would let her get away with writing her name in all capitals). As previously mentioned, I am alternating days for cursive and print use to give practice in each. I am adding an additional sentence to her written narrations. She now must write seven sentences to tell me about what we have read. I have noticed that her retelling abilities have improved with the added sentences. Last year when she was writing only three or four sentences at a time they were very disjointed. With six and seven sentences she actually has enough space to tell more of the story, so she does a better job. I can also say that 1001 Arabian Nights is a hit in the literature category. The book we have chosen for this is by Geraldine McCaughrean. It seems to be a good version that keeps the stories appropriate for kids while still keeping them interesting. She has also enjoyed some Norse myths as well as some Chinese, Japanese and Korean folktales. Stories and Art seem to appeal to her a lot as well as Science (where she is learning about real stuff). So I am trying to keep those elements strong in our lessons.

The Adrenaline Junkie is mostly enjoying her school work. She has a lot less to do. She is reading better, but she still complains about having to sound out words. She wants to read effortlessly, but to get there she has to do the work of sounding out now. Four-year olds don't understand these things. She also wants to spell. I force myself to be patient when she keeps asking me how to spell words. Her spelling really is supplementing her reading skills and is helping her understand that words are spelled the same way every time. It also helps her be more familiar with some of the words she likes to use. I am still taking it a little slower with her than I did with her sister. It isn't so much a difference in ability as it is a difference in interest and focus. The Junkie looks at the world differently than her sister. She just has more priority on relationships and less of a priority on knowledge. I have seen evidence that if the Junkie applied herself, she could do better work than the Fairy did at the same age level. But the Adrenaline Junkie is a very active whirlwind of a girl. It is hard for her to sit still very long. In fact, she and the 2.5 year old Happy Boy live life at about the same speed (hurtling through space as fast as their little bodies can carry them). I'm not going to be too quick to try to advance the Adrenaline Junkie until she has gotten better with her reading and writing. She still thinks a lot like a preschooler. The switch in her brain that makes her think like an older kid hasn't happened yet. Until that happens, It would be folly to try to take on a full day school schedule.

So what have we be up to besides school? Flu shots, Dentist appointments, taking walks, household chores and shopping trips. I've been grinding grain with my mill and baking homemade wheat bread. I also experimented with millet. I've come to the conclusion that Millet bread is a lot like corn bread and can be used in many of the same ways. I've been cleaning up some of the toy areas and weeded out a few items to be given away as well as brought out a few things our youngest is old enough for now. Besides my sewing project in progress, I started a small needlepoint that is going quickly. The Fairy is knitting scarves in hopes of selling a few for spending money. The Junkie is begging me to teach her to sew. I have a whole lot of craft project ideas lined up in my mind. The big one being quilting again. It's just about time to teach the oldest of my girls how to do hand sewing. Hand sewing patchwork sampler blocks would be perfect to teach her. Then maybe next year sometime (if not later depending on how fast she sews) we can start basic machine sewing.

This is my rough outline for how to teach a child to sew:

  1. Lacing cards used to practice a running stitch, a whip stitch and a blanket stitch.
  2. Teach plastic canvas needlepoint half-cross stitch projects.
  3. Teach hand sewing using patchwork projects and any small crafts that come up and interest the child.
  4. Teach basic machine sewing using simple projects (such as putting patchwork into a quilt).
  5. Teach basic sewing procedures by sewing from a pattern (stuffed animal, simple article of clothing, etc.)
  6. Try harder projects little by little until child has developed desired level of mastery.
  7. Child becomes self-taught and self-directed in sewing projects (or any other craft projects for that matter)
That is what I plan to try anyway. I also plan to teach both the girls and the boy to sew. I think their Daddy plans to teach them all to do wood working and any other interesting creative and building skills we can thinking of.

Ok, so this wasn't all that quick. But it was an update. I hope you enjoyed it.