juthwara: (Chu)
Hey look, I blinked and the summer is gone. The older kids had a fantastic time at camp. We took our annual two-week summer trip to Michigan, spending time with both of our families and seeing friends in Indiana and Ohio on the way.

And now it's time for school again. Katherine was not entirely resigned to starting school again:

IMG_0441

Alec, on the other hand was entirely ready to rock kindergarten:

IMG_0440

The dress code was changed this year from navy blue polo and khaki bottoms to any color collared shirt and long pants or skirt.* It is, however, entirely silent on the subject of monkey hats.


*which I didn't find out about until after I ordered 15 navy blue polo shirts and 6 pairs of khaki pants. Sigh. Fortunately, you can return website orders from Target to the store, so I returned 75 percent of them and bought some other colors, which makes Katherine very very happy.

Nine

Jun. 29th, 2014 11:59 pm
juthwara: (Chu)
IMG_0112


Last Saturday, Katherine turned nine years old. That's just one year away from double digits. I started getting body hair at nine. I'm so very not ready to contemplate puberty yet.

Currently, she's 53 inches tall and 60 pounds - long and skinny. I have a strong feeling that she's due for a growth spurt upwards any day now. She's solidly in Big Kid territory these days, and starting to show hints of the young woman she's going to become.

She still happily plays involved games with toys and plans out elaborate projects. She's a Minecraft aficionado. She loves sewing, crafts, science and cooking. The confluence of those things have resulted in her being banned from using flour unsupervised (a choice quote from the last incident: "But I didn't use it in my room!" It can be a bit exhausting trying to keep up with a child who has always had a talent for enacting projects that I had no idea I needed to forbid, but I so admire her creativity and ingenuity.

I can't believe we're going to have a fourth grader next year. Our Big Girl.

IMG_0137
juthwara: (Chu)
As I've said several times in the past, it's always been difficult to know how well Katherine reads. Her school has been extraordinarily patient with her performance anxiety when it comes to reading and writing (the writing issue has led to us to decide to have her formally tested for learning disabilities), and she's definitely made a significant amount of progress this year. She actually admits that she can read a bit now, for instance. She's even been occasionally willing to read out loud in class.

But the biggest sign of progress yet came this evening. She wants to have a sleepover, and I've told her she can't do that until she can go to sleep without one of us sitting with her (she was the lucky inheritor of my childhood fear of the dark). Tonight, she decided to try going to sleep on her own, and she decided to try reading to help herself fall asleep.

Reading for pleasure and falling asleep on her own. Our big girl.

***

Exercise: 25 minutes on exercise bike
juthwara: (Chu)
Given my rate of posting over the past year, it seems foolish to attempt NaBloPoMo this year. And yet I truly want to post more, so I'm going to try it anyway.

I've actually been meaning to post for most of the past week, but instead, I've been working on Katherine's Halloween costume:

IMG_0779

She's a musketeer. I'm a little conflicted about it, because she got the idea from a movie she watched. Afterward, she was asking me about historical Musketeers, practicing her fencing and even told me she thought she was over princesses. Great, right? The problem is that the movie was Barbie and the Three Musketeers, and she may be over princesses, but now she's into Barbie. Something of a lateral move, I think.

Anyway, I'm absurdly proud of the costume, because the long skirt is detachable and can be turned into a cloak, while there's a short skirt underneath more suitable for swashbuckling. Here's a very bad picture of it:

IMG_0778

With the amount of work that went into Katherine's costume, I didn't have it in me to do any other sewing, so the boys got store-bought costumes. James was an elephant:

IMG_0771 IMG_0774

James currently has a passionate love affair with elephants, and aside from dogs which bark properly, all animals trumpet like an elephant as far as he's concerned. Meanwhile, Alec loves clothes with monkeys on them, so his costume was a natural fit:

IMG_0781

And now I'm going to save the rest of my words for tomorrow, when November begins. More anon.
juthwara: (Chu)
* Katherine's school had a Parents' Night on Tuesday. We went and saw her large, comfortable classroom that she shares with a class of eight other children. We learned about their daily schedule, where they intersperse individualized academic instruction with ample breaks, group activities and physical exercise. We listened to how all of the students came up with the values they want the school to promote (honesty, kindness, etc.) and came up with rules based on those. We heard about the PTO, which has plans to raise money for things like a new swingset and field trips that don't turn our children into miniature Willy Lomans. Heading home, we retrieved Katherine from happily socializing with a group of kids ranging from 6 to 12.

* Last week, at pickup Katherine's teacher met me to tell me about a meltdown Katherine had had over wanting to be able to pick a partner for a schoolwide game when everyone's partner was randomly assigned. She eventually got with the program, but to my surprise, I wasn't being told this to report misbehavior, but simply to let me know why Katherine might be upset (she was fine by that point. While Katherine's need to work her way through dealing with the fact that things aren't going to be the way she wants them with the emotional equivalent of a force 10 hurricane is... aggravating, she at least has the virtue of getting over it when she's done). My reaction to these fits after weathering a few thousand of them is more along the lines of "Suck it up, Buttercup," but I'm glad she has a teacher who cares so much about her feelings.

* Over the past several years, Katherine has had some health problems that can result in embarrassing side effects. While they aren't the reason we chose to homeschool, it was a factor in not sending her back to school. I had absolutely no faith that the public schools would do anything to protect her from the potential social fallout. We were willing to risk sending her to camp because we had faith that a Quaker school would protect her from bullying, and we were lucky enough that there were only minor issues.

Well, after a year of only a couple infections, Katherine has managed to develop an infection that has made it through three rounds of antibiotics, and the side effects are definitely there and quite noticeable. And while I'm grinding my teeth with frustration over how rotten our luck has been (really, we haven't dealt with anything this bad in over two years), the school is dealing with it just fine. We've had several concerned conversations where it's clear their concern is her wellbeing and that they've been doing their best to keep the other kids from noticing.

When we were telling people about this school this summer, I was cautious, saying that we had liked everything we had seen so far and that they were saying all the right things. Because, of course, the gap between what an organization says and their execution can be wide. It's only been four weeks, but so far I can say we're extremely happy with how they're living up to their ideals.

Schooled

Sep. 14th, 2013 01:45 am
juthwara: (Chu)
School started for Katherine last Tuesday. Nearly two weeks in, things are going very well. Katherine really likes her school and her teacher and she's made a couple friends. She has another uti, and her teacher is taking the issues that come with that in stride. Better yet, while in the dropoff line last week, her assistant principal told me how well she was doing and how loveable she is. Hearing that your kid's school really likes her is a major plus.

And she has art, music and gym, plus her teacher is teaching them yoga, none of which she would be getting at her local school. I feel very conflicted about the fact that by sending her to a charter school, we're actively taking money away from the school district that's so desperately in debt. But I don't think anyone who's paid any attention to the national headlines on the condition of the Philadelphia School District would argue that we should be sending our child there if we can find an alternative. At this point, there's so little staff to provide even basic supervision that even the schools that had a low violence rate aren't safe.

***

Last week, at the end of the excruciating two week break between the end of Alec's summer preschool and the beginning of fall preschool, I told Alec we were going to preschool the next day to see his new classroom. In the past, he's been reluctant to leave for preschool, although he always happily runs in once he's at his classroom. But that day, he cheered and insisted we needed to pack his lunch and his backpack. So he put two pieces of bread, a cut up cheese stick and a juice box in his lunch box, grabbed his backpack and insisted on putting them in the car, no matter how many times I told him we were just going to pick his father up from work. I was amused but pleased at this new enthusiasm.

The next day, we dropped Katherine off at school, I told him we were going to preschool and the chorus of "I don't want to go to school" began. It only got louder as we arrived and I had to practically drag him inside, mentally cursing my premature optimism, until he finally collapsed on the hallway floor and finally managed to get out "I WANT MY BACKPACK!"

Oh. Well, we could do that. We went back out to the car, he put on his backpack and grabbed his lunchbox and practically ran into his classroom, ready to stay for the day.

He had his first full day in the four-year-olds room on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, he got dressed, packed his lunch, put on his coat and backpack and appeared in my bedroom, announcing he was ready for school. Sadly, he only goes to preschool Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think he's having a good time.
juthwara: (Chu)
* Katherine had her end-of-the-year ballet recital last night. She's been taking classes through the local rec center, and while there are many criticisms to be leveled against Philadelphia's Parks and Rec department (and I say this as an employee of said department), it's hard to beat $150 for 9 months of perfectly decent ballet lessons, costume included.

I don't think I'm just being a fond parent when I say I was really pretty impressed by Katherine's class, which was 6 and 7 year old beginners. Watching the classes, which ranged in age from 3 to teenagers, I also started feeling a lot less guilty about not managing to get Katherine in dance classes at four or five when she first started asking. There were talented outliers, of course, but it looked very much like six or seven is the dividing line between "able to listen well to instruction and learn how to dance" and "flailing around to music, sometimes deliberately in unison (or a semblance thereof)."

****

We actually made it out to a movie a couple weeks ago! And it wasn't rated G! It was Iron Man 3, as a matter of fact. To give a quick, spoiler-free review, I was really impressed, and think it was actually better than Iron Man 2. Rather than do the action movie franchise of simply rehashing what worked before but ramping it up by making it BIGGER! and MORE EXPLOSIONS!, they tried something different and focused on actual character development. I was also impressed that they took what was a racist villain in the comic and completely turned the concept on its head.

****

On a final note on the topic of performing, on a whim recently, [livejournal.com profile] longstrider did a Youtube search on the Not Ready for Bandai Players, the name that the Champaign crowd gave our cosplay group that competed in the cosplay contest at Anime Central for several years. And there are actually two of our performances on Youtube. Sadly, not our award-winning Ranma 1/2 / Lupin III crossover sketch, but I'm glad to see our Maison Ikkoku/Excel Saga crossover is being preserved. What really surprises me is how non-embarrassing it is to watch them. Not just that the dialogue holds up well and is still funny, but watching myself isn't cringe-inducing. And even more astonishing, all of the comments are positive. Really, a pleasant surprise all around.



juthwara: (Chu)
So the other things we did on Mo Willems Friday was go look at a school for Katherine.

I feel like I should back up here and talk a bit about Katherine's reading issues. I've been on record in the past as saying that I felt that she could read better than she claimed - not that hard, since she claimed she couldn't read at all. And to a certain extent, I think that's still true. But while she ended kindergarten reading simple phonics stories, and made it up to the last level of Reading Eggs in first grade which theoretically would have her at a first grade reading level, this year she's been having trouble going past the basic phonics stage. I found us having to go back to Progressive Phonics and work our way through the intermediate level. I also found that 1) she's still having trouble with letter reversals at an age where she really should be growing out of that and 2), she guesses at words based on whatever letter in the word she sees first and 3) seems to have a lot of trouble with visual discrimination. She has a lot of trouble picking an individual object out of a crowded scene, and was complaining a lot about having trouble reading small print. She made dramatic improvements when I started blowing up the font on the computer when reading and starting planning assignments based on the idea that I couldn't expect her to handle recognizing small things (for example, her math assignments often represent numbers visually by using bars for the tens and teeny tiny weeny little dots for the ones. Life got a lot easier when I stopped asking her to count them).

I did get her eyes checked since her glasses didn't seem to be helping at all, this time at an optometrist who uses the spiffy machine that measures your prescription through space-age sourcery. She does in fact have a large degree of astigmatism in her left eye that the last eye doctor didn't pick up at all (in all fairness, she's not terribly cooperative, which is a big reason I wanted the machine). While the new glasses have helped, she hasn't had any great breakthroughs in reading. Now that we've eliminated eye problems, that leaves neurological issues. And here's where I get out of my depth when it comes to reading instruction.

Enter the school, which I found online through a series of links I can't begin to remember. It's like an online charter in that it's a charter licensed through the state but not affiliated with a school district (and in fact has an online option) but it has physical locations with real teachers. It has a focus on dyslexia and dysgraphia, but isn't only for students with learning disabilities, so Katherine will be able to go there whether she has a learning disability or not, and will have a teacher with training in dealing with reading difficulties. They will also evaluate her, something I had been trying to figure out how to get without having to go through our (urban, cash-strapped, somewhat corrupt) school district. In addition:

- It has multiage classes with a student-teacher ratio of 13:1
- They provide individualized instruction that allow students to move at their own pace
- They have multiple breaks in schoolwork throughout the day and spend a lot of time outside. The branch we visited had a garden and was talking about chickens in the fall.
- Their science and social studies curricula are heavily project based
- The school day is structured with the academic block in the morning and electives like art, music and clubs in the afternoon. One of my biggest worries about sending Katherine to school is what a strong introvert she is, and with this schedule, we could potentially bring her home early a couple afternoons a week if it seems like she's getting too stressed out with a seven hour school day.
- The founder's children are homeschooled (although they're going to the school next year) and in fact go to the same day program for homeschoolers Katherine attends, so we don't have to worry about prejudice against homeschooled chidren. Talking to him, he seemed to have many of the same educational philosophies we do.

Really, I think the only way I could make this is a better school is if it were Quaker, but if it were, it wouldn't be a public school, so I'm willing to accept the tradeoff (especially since they have a strong emphasis on teaching conflict resolution).

I admit, there are parts of homeschooling I will definitely miss. When it's going well, it's a lot of fun. I really love how free our days are, and I will miss being able to give Katherine hours of free time to do her own projects. She does the most wonderful, creative things (one of my favorites: when building a hotel out of blocks, she figured out how to make a functioning revolving door), and I hate the thought of her losing the time and energy to do as many of them. I worry that being around people all day will be hard on our little introvert, and how hard it will be for our shy girl to meet a school full of strangers.

But she's also expressing unhappiness with her reading abilities, so it's time to get help. And while homeschooling is great when it's going well, when Katherine is being rebellious and Alec is screeching for help with a computer problem and James is insisting on climbing all over us and the laptop, it makes me want to put my head through a wall, and that's what homeschooling looks like here more often than not. So I'm excited for a good affordable school to send Katherine to so we can get at least one kid out of the house. I'm really looking forward to see how she'll develop when she can finally read well.

New Year

Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:35 am
juthwara: (Chu)
I had an upbeat post planned yesterday, about my plans for the new year and the things I thought we could pretty realistically get accomplished. And instead, my mother is in the ER tonight with a bowel obstruction (her oh-so-useful doctor this morning phoned in a medication for gas. When I have more time, I have a doozy of a rant about the various stories of my mother's medical care make me suspect that people see an elderly woman in a wheelchair and don't try as hard as they might otherwise). Her aide is with her; I am not because I am James's main food source, and a baby in the ER is not a good idea. If it had been something that could have been resolved in an evening, I wouldn't have been needed. Since she's being admitted, we will go over tomorrow morning once she's in a hospital room, away from the ER germs. This all makes perfect sense and does absolutely nothing to assuage my crippling guilt, but the fact remains, a baby in the ER is a bad idea, so here I am.

So now I'm looking at two different years: the one where my mother remains relatively stable and I keep on with my plans, and the other one, where she isn't and I need to figure out how to manage our family while possibly having to be in Michigan often. I'm rapidly starting to think that planning for crisis management is going to have to be the way to go, although I will do my best to not live as if we're in crisis mode when we're at home in Philadelphia. Non-crisis mode involves things like more exercise ([livejournal.com profile] longstrider recently got a hefty raise that we're deeply unhappy about (that's another doozy of a post all on its own), which mean we should be able to afford joining the Y), keeping up with our improved cooking habits, continuing to be more involved at church and keeping a better school schedule. Crisis mode preparations, on the other hand, involve making sure bills can get paid and the house kept together if I'm not there, coming up with child care plans, and quite probably looking for a school for Katherine. We haven't been accomplishing more than the minimum since James was born, and the "She's in first grade, it doesn't matter so much if we don't get a lot done this year" starts to wear thin as it stretches throughout second grade as well. I had plans for getting lot more done starting next week. But now I'm not sure if we're getting home next week. I think she needs a teacher less distracted and stressed than I am, and we need to be able to continue her education throughout any upheaval. I was commenting last month that we need some sort of groovy experimental school that gives her a lot of autonomy and fun projects, but is still academically rigorous. We'll see if that's possible.

Life lately

Nov. 3rd, 2012 12:42 am
juthwara: (Chu)
* As I said yesterday, we came through the hurricane just fine. It got very windy, but didn't rain too terribly much. We never lost power, and while we saw a number of large branches and trees down the next day, most of our immediate vicinity was up and functioning. I think the suburbs were affected much more simply because they have more trees; I had not thought of that being an advantage of our blighted urban landscape, but silver linings and all that. All in all, we were very, very lucky, especially compared to New Jersey and NYC.

Really, we live in a very favorable weather area. We get about a foot of snowfall annually, it gets hotter than I would like in the summer, but still almost always below 100 and not terribly humid, we're not in a flood plain, we're not prone to tornadoes and we're tectonically stable. We do get hurricanes, but we have New Jersey absorbing the brunt of most of what comes our way.

* James is six months old. Stop it, relentless march of time! He has taken the longest of any of my children to produce teeth, but to make up for it, I can feel at least six right under his gums. Two on the bottom are very nearly through. Even though he's old enough and seems interested, I've been reluctant to start him on solids since breastfeeding is so easy right now. But if enough of those teeth pop through, I think I will swiftly reconsider my position on solids.

* Thanks to a generous grant from the Mom Foundation, Katherine is now spending two days a week at a local center for homeschoolers. It's called Talking Stick, and every bit as hippy-dippy as you might guess from a name like that. There are organized activities, but much of the day consists of putting children in a big room with lots of educational materials and letting them have at it. I'm not the sort of person who can take that approach in my homeschooling, but it definitely suits Katherine very well, since she can happily occupy herself most of the day with self-designed projects. I'm the sort of wet blanket who insists she learn to read though, so this is an excellent compromise. She can go make a mess for someone else to clean up, spend time with other kids and have people to help facilitate her ideas. When I picked her up last Thursday, she had completed a poster advertising for auditions for the play she had written. She had already played a dolphin in another play that day. Then the other three days a week, I'll do the organized academic stuff with her, which will be easier for not having to butt heads with her two days a week.
juthwara: (Default)
I've been using some of my lovely, lovely free time to do some planning for school next year. I came to the conclusion a while ago that while we like Five in a Row, it takes a huge amount of prep work that I just don't have time or energy for this year. I'm not planning on giving it up, but we'll row less often and focus more on canned curriculum that doesn't require much more than opening the book and doing the day's assignment. I feel like second grade needs a bit more structure as well, which will be easier to do with more of a focus on daily assignments.

So, the plan so far:

Language arts: Daily reading, Reading Eggs, Writing With Ease volume 1, something for spelling (All About Spelling and Spelling Power have both been recommended to me)
Math: MEP 2A and 2B, plus some computer games to help cement basic math facts
History: Story of the World volume 1. I intend to start the year with some prehistory, along with a unit on dinosaurs for science, then move into SOTW. K has a lot of questions lately that would be addressed by covering the Big Bang and the concept of evolution, we'll start there and progress up to humans before getting into recorded history. I also intend to do some heavy supplementing and maybe take some time out periodically for American History, since SOTW volume 1 is all ancient history.
Science: This is the area I don't have plans to use a specific curriculum for. I think we'll spend another year following K's interests. If they tend heavily in one particular scientific discipline, I might look into a curriculum, but otherwise I think it's better to take a broad approach.
Geography/Social Studies: This will partially be covered along with history. We will probably include this mostly with any Five in a Row books we do.
Art/Music: This is the exciting part - there's a homeschooling enrichment center opening right near us! So based on the sampling of classes they had this summer, we'll be able to get Katherine into some good art classes (and possibly something music based, but so far she steadfastly refuses to take a music class). She's also starting ballet this fall.

I've been thinking a lot about what to do with Alec as well. He's doing preschool two days a week, but that leaves three where he needs to be occupied. I don't think three-year-olds should be pressured into academics, but he's really interested in letters and numbers, so it would be nice to find some "school" things to occupy him while I'm teaching Katherine, and also some stuff to do with him while she's on the computer. There are computer games at the library that can occupy him quite a while that he can do himself, so I'm looking for more computer games that preschoolers can do independently. Puzzles can keep him occupied for quite a while, so periodically getting some new ones should help. Beyond that, reading together and books that help him practice the alphabet and counting should make him happy while Katherine is working independently.

I can't quite believe the end of the summer is so close. We need to come to some decisions about our long-term schooling plans, but for now, we have the makings of a fun year.

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