The Minnesota Zoo has a baby tapir! We went and saw it yesterday!
Also, M got a plushie penguin, who he then had to introduce to the other penguins. Like ya do.
I haven’t done one of these in a while! Okay, here’s some random stuff:
1. My Tumblr updates a lot. This is because I have a queue set up to autopost between 5 a.m. and midnight. I also will manually post something from time to time. Right now I have Tumblr set to autotweet each queued post.
This is because … because I use Tumblr to bring things to people’s attention. Or to say hi to a friend. Or to let someone know I saw a thing and thought of them. Or that I think the thing I am re-posting on Tumblr is important and I want a wide audience to see it. More people follow me on Twitter than on Tumblr. Therefore, I tweet each Tumblr post. I want people — specific or in general — to see the thing in question.
However, since these are queued autoposts, I am not always paying attention when the tweet comes through. I may be driving, or at work, or asleep. So if you say something to me about it on Twitter I may not immediately reply because I am not actually there.
2. Circus resumed! K is very happy to be back at her classes. Also, they are all starting to discuss Spring Recital costumes, which always makes me O_o.
3. M is sick, the poor pook. Which means we are all likely going to get it.
In related news, The 2012-2013 flu season is apparently one of the worst in a decade, and there’s a new and more aggressive norovirus strain going around. So, good times.
4. We took the kids to the Minnesota History Center for school yesterday. Not only were the exhibits great, as per usual, but we had the museum almost entirely to ourselves. This meant that the docents and guides spent a certain amount of time enthusiastically talking to my kids about History.
My kids both proved that they really know their stuff. All kinds of stuff relating to Minnesota and U.S. history. I was really very pleased. We don’t quiz the kids, particularly. And at this point they both get a lot of their general knowledge from reading library books without close supervision. So it’s not immediately evident how much they are learning.
But, clearly, they are learning.
Both the kids are at the very edge of that point in the accumulation of facts, whereafter the accumulation of more facts is easier because you already have a mental system designed for the storage and use of facts. This is a good place to be.
My kids read a lot. A lot. And a huge part of what they read are books I’ve never read. Fiction and non-fiction, all sorts of things. I wonder, reasonably frequently, what they are getting from these books.
I wonder this because I know the sorts of thing I gleaned from the fiction I consumed as a kid. Messages I am certain someone would have corrected, had I told anyone what I was learning. This came to mind when I was putting together the recent post about Disney movies on my youth. Specifically regarding the film Dragonslayer.
Now, Dragonslayer was not a very good film. But I watched it and rewatched it on basic cable, fascinated with certain aspects of the film. I couldn’t care less about the idiot boy pretending to be a wizard — whatevs. But the movie had not merely ONE girl character, it had TWO. And what happened to them is … educational.
Elspeth is the perfect girly girl, a princess, who is protected by the men in her life through a web of lies. When she finds out the truth, she takes a stand, and dies for it. Valerian lies about being a girl, pretends to be a boy and young man all of her life, she lies to protect herself. When she tells the truth and reveals that she’s a girl, the men who control her life attempt to have her killed.
That’s not an exaggeration; that’s the plot of the film. Simply being female is a lottery of death.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw Dragonslayer. Twelve, maybe? But the message I clearly got was, when they find out you are a girl, they will hurt you. I didn’t have any real inkling as to who the They was. In Dragonslayer it was everyone. The entire community in conspiracy.
I’m pretty sure if I’d mentioned this worldview to any responsible adult, they would have corrected my misapprehension.
Or, maybe not. Sometimes, the world does not look particularly safe for women. I don’t know what anyone would have said to me, had I mentioned my conclusions drawn from this reasonably terrible Disney film.
Still, I don’t know what my kids are getting from the books they read, the videos they watch. I know what I think the messages are. But I’m not a nine-year-old, trying to make sense of things which manifestly don’t always make any kind of sense. (Try to explain “banned books” to a kid sometime. They give you the BEST “grown-ups are crazy” look.)
So I ask my kids about what they read and watch. I check in, and try to be available for questions. And I pre-emptively talk about the world and how it works. I know things are going to slip through, misconceptions over which I have no control. I hope to catch most of the big ones, though.
1. Because it’s a Christmas movie, I rewatched Die Hard. In no particular order:
– McClane smokes a cigarette in an airport.
– McClane carries a gun on an airplane.
– No-one has a mobile phone.
– Alan Rickman is young.
I am not sure I am ready for the movies I grew up with to be historical fiction. There you have it, though.
2. So, I was reading The Violinist’s Thumb, Sam Keen’s latest book. (He wrote The Disappearing Spoon.) And there’s a bit in there about Vitamin A poisoning. The severe effects are totally disgusting and lethal. So I went and looked up how much Vitamin A is toxic.
Let me say, the internets are vague and contradictory on this point. A great deal of close reading indicated, however, that what most people were talking about was overdosing on supplements. I am eating about 2-8 times the RDA of beta carotene in my food, which is absolutely not at all the same thing, according to the NIH. According to the NIH, there is no risk whatsoever to eating actual real foods naturally high in beta carotene and other carotenoids. (Vitamin A fortified foods are a different matter.) You will eventually turn orange from eating too much, but that’s still not near [description of vitamin A poisoning redacted].
Which is what happens when you eat polar bear livers.
Do not, for the love of god, eat polar bear livers. They will kill you dead in twenty-four hours.
3. We ordered a physical copy of A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor, as the next history book for the kids. We’ll be finishing up the current American History text in a couple weeks. Time to switch back to the world.
For those of you following along at home, J and I homeschool our two kids, M and K. There are so many varieties of homeschooling that I, from time to time, talk about what we do and why. This is partially to inform the curious, partially to give ideas and model behaviors for other parents who may be thinking of homeschooling, and partially for my own thinking.
1. K is nine-and-a-half, and in fourth grade. M is nine, and in third grade. This is … a little bit misleading, and a little bit arbitrary, but one has to pick a standard to measure the kids against, and that’s the standard we picked.
2. In the state of Minnesota, annual testing is required for homeschooled kids. We have the kids take the Peabody Test each fall. (Hence picking a grade for comparison.)
3. J and I decided some time ago that we have similar ideas about a curriculum. Competent human beings, by the time they are released into the world, need certain skills. Those skills are many and varied. It’s our job as parents to try to teach ALL of those skills. But in a more strictly academic sense we teach, or provide access to teachers of, the following:
Math – arithmetic, algebra, geometry, money, measurement, fractions, decimals, estimation, probability
Grammar, spelling, punctuation
Sciences – y’know, all of them
History – world, American, recent, ancient
Performance and public speaking
Literature – mythology, legend, plays, classic works, new fiction, sf/f, comics
4. We teach school seven days a week, year-round. We miss about 40 days a year for holidays, field trips, birthdays, vacations, and performances. This is much easier than trying to stop and start each week or season.
5. Each day the kids have what I call “the mandatories.” That’s math, composition or grammar, history, and Spanish.
For math we use Singapore Math. Each kid has their own textbook and workbook, and does a small section of problems. This takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours, depending on the stubborn resistance of the child in question to DOING said math.
Composition switches off with grammar. For composition the kids each have a notebook, and must write a set number of sentences on a topic of their choosing. This practices handwriting, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and composition. For grammar we use The Logic of English, a title that makes me laaauuuuugh. LoE teaches spelling and grammar rules in a way that tries to enforce, well, logic, on English.
At the moment for history we are reading The American Story. It’s a really nice collection of events in U.S. history, those both well-known and more obscure. The kids have a fairly decent grounding in world history already, and now we’re working on specific times and regions.
The kids take a Spanish class for homeschool kids once a week. Each day at home they do a part of their homework for that class.
6. After the mandatories we have the free reading and video sections of school. Each week J goes to the library and gets a large stack of books on a variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction. The kids have to read for twenty-to-thirty minutes from this selection. We keep a loose eye on which books they pick. Left to their own devices K will pick all mythology, legend, and sociology, while M will pick all science, engineering, and military history. We step in from time to time and make them branch out each week.
After the reading the kids finish up school with a School Video. This includes educational videos J has checked out from the library, non-fiction videos we own, such as The Story of Us, Schoolhouse Rock, or anything by David Attenborough, and a host of choices from NetFlix.
The … standard … of what counts as a school video slipped a few years back when M had the flu and watched a LOT of NetFlix. But it includes Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but excludes Ice Road Truckers. So, y’know.
7. For music both kids are in choir at Unity Unitarian Church. In addition, K plays piano and euphonium. For this she has a half-hour practice of each instrument every morning, and lessons once a week.
In addition, K belongs to a homeschool band. Once a week, over lunch, she goes for a lesson and a practice of her band music. (This term they are doing, among other pieces, music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.)
8. The kids take swimming lessons at the YMCA to which we belong. M takes lessons from September through March. K has finished the YMCA’s lesson sequence. We enroll her in a term of Shark once a year, to keep her skills up.
Both of the children are far, far better swimmers than I am.
9. Athletics. Yes indeedy.
Both kids take karate at Running Tiger Shaolin Kenpo, one class a week and five minutes of practice every day. Swimming counts as athletics as well.
M takes a non-performing trampoline class at Circus Juventas. Between karate, swimming, and trampoline, he’s in three classes that teach full-body coordination and awareness. We make sure that he gets exercise every day in addition to these classes. Either homeschool playgroup, or time on our backyard trampoline, or running around the block, or something. Exercised children are calm children. Just like puppies.
K takes karate, as I said, and swim lessons, as I said. She also takes classes at Anda Flamenco once a week. (The Anda Flamenco website makes noise on page load! Caution!) And then there’s circus.
To re-cap, K is heavily involved in Circus Juventas. She’s taking twelve classes this term:
Low Casting II
Vault Mini-Trampoline II
Low Wire I
It covers fourteen and a half hours, over six days a week. K basically has “Athletics” totally covered.
This is covered by things already listed. Miles is in choir. Karla is in choir, band, flamenco, and circus. Neither child worries much about getting up in front of people and doing stuff, as long as they feel adequately prepared. I feel, and J agrees with me, that this is an essential life skill.
11. Social Navigation
This is pretty varied. It includes talking about sex, dating, sexual harassment or abuse. It includes talk of drugs, alcohol, and social situations involving same. It covers talking about friendship, meeting people, and negotiation. It covers etiquette and manners. It covers ethics and morals.
It also covers some pretty basic, yet horribly subtle, skills. How much eye contact is the right amount? What is the right amount to face the person one is speaking to? When does the other person want you to stop talking?
Tricky, tricky things.
12. Other Items
There’s so much to homeschooling that the things I’ve already listed don’t cover.
News: Each morning we read the BBC website headlines to the kids, and watch some BBC News video clips. We talk about the news items and try to explain current events and world politics.
Read Aloud: Every morning, and those evenings which aren’t too late, we read part of a book aloud to the kids. The books vary; science fiction and fantasy, older classics of children’s literature, books featuring girls, boys, and families — all sorts of things. We read books that are slightly beyond where the children are comfortable reading in terms of language or themes. We read books that cover a wide range of times and places and sorts of problems. We try to expose the kids to the sheer variety of human experience as revealed by narrative.
The future is easier is you have a map. Fiction is a guide to possibility.
Chores: Both the kids have chores. Not in exchange for money, but merely because the common good of all people requires that everyone take care of the commons. One takes out the garbage not because one has filled it, but because the garbage needs taking out.
Some chores are assigned because one child does do more of the messing-up. But cleaning one’s own things is not an assigned chore, it’s merely part of life. Cleaning one’s room or playroom are not chores, they are expectations. Picking up the dog bowls each day, now, that’s an assigned chore. It needs doing, and the dogs just don’t seem to help out, you know?
Community service / charity: The kids must perform community service or give money to charity. For now they choose to go with J on her monthly visits to the local nursing home. One morning a month they go and talk to the residents there.
This is also part of J’s community service; we hold the same standards for ourselves as we do for the kids. As a family we sponsor the education of a girl about K’s age living in Guatemala. I donate money regularly to Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International. As the kids get older they will make choices about how they will continue to contribute to the world.
Voting: We go as a family to the polls each year. Because it matters to not only vote, but to be seen by one’s children to care and participate.
Projects and field trips: Oh, we go to museums, and model rocketry launches, and Renaissance Festival, and concerts, and zoos, and vacations. We do stuff.
When we do these other things, we don’t make a Huge Educational Production out of it. Just going and having the experience is learning enough.
It’s a lot of stuff. Is it more work than conventional school? Less? I think that depends on what a family considers to be difficult. I listen to friends and coworkers discuss their wrangles with school institutions and I think I’ve got it easy. But then I spend three straight hours dealing with decimal-related tears, or cursive-script-rage, and I think that this is perhaps a bit difficult.
There’s no question that this is a lot of driving around and taking kids to various things. But is is any more or less than any family with active kids? I can’t say. I do know that we would find K’s circus goals and commitments very difficult if she were also in school six hours a day.
I’m profoundly glad that we homeschool. I think it lets us challenge our kids while also making allowances for their strengths and weaknesses. I think that they would be different if they were in school. M has certain behavioral and learning quirks which would make institutional education hard for everyone. K likes to slide to the lowest educational expectations unless her teacher, parent, or coach nags at her to do better. As homeschoolers, we can compensate for or counter these tendencies.
I like my kids. I like that they are confident, polite, outgoing, and reasonably empathetic. I like that they have goals they want to pursue, interests that fill them with passion and purpose. I like that they each have academic interests and fields of study they prefer. I am glad to be homeschooling them not only because I think it’s good for them, but because I get to see how awesome they are, every day.
My kids tell me, weekly, that they are going to take over the world.
I don’t think I would mind.
For all that I was sick this week, I had a lovely, sociable couple of days.
A friend of mine was in town for business, and met me at circus on Wednesday. We talked a wide variety of things, not least of which was the awesomeness of the kids doing circus. They are artists, those kids, and I am reminded of how impressive they are when guests of mine come visit.
Yesterday I met some out-of-town friends and we went to the art institute. I don’t get to the MIA often enough, and welcomed the chance.
Since my friends were driving the itinerary, rather than my kids, I saw some pieces I’d yet to see. There was a lolarious literal rendition of The Annunciation, by Girolamo da Santacroce, in which God fires the Holy Spirit at Mary. The Holy Spirit begins as a dove and then transforms into the infant Jesus still hurtling through the air at Mary. Who is kneeling in blissfully accepting mediation, or something like that.
I kinda wanted to tell Mary to duck, or at least put her hands up to catch him, or something.
I also came across a piece that was new to me, Location Shooting, by Alfred Leslie. It’s huge, and lovely, and foreboding, but also comforting to me. I burst out laughing when I saw it because it was such a delightful thing.
My son wanted to spend about a half-hour debating the engineering and symbolism of The Coaci Inkstand. Which is lovely and exquisite, and does stand in some irony near an oil painting of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple.
I was pleased with K when, standing in a recreated historical dining room, she pointed out that we were in a Pirates of the Caribbean-style room. I checked the dates, and, yep, my daughter can correctly identify mid-to-late eighteenth-century American home decor. From a Disney movie.
I’ll take it as a win.
1. So week two of no-weight-lifting proceeds apace. I am whiny and sullen about this, but I am being very careful with my hands and arms, not doing lifting, not doing rowing machine, doing lots of stretches.
Instead of weights I am doing a variety of bodyweight exercises. Supermans, where one lays on the floor on one’s stomach and lifts one’s legs and arms up off the floor. AKA, The Beached Walrus. Inchworms, where one stands, bends over, walks one’s hands out on the floor to a push-up position, does a push-up, walks one’s hands back, and straightens. Wall Sits, where one puts one’s back to a wall and squats with knees bent at a ninety-degree angle — and holds this position until total collapse.
There are a lot of bodyweight exercises that end with “… until you collapse.”
2. My new schedule means I have to get all my cooking done in fewer days. I made bread yesterday, and expect I will spend a number of hours today in the kitchen.
3. My kids coveted the plushie Companion Cube (from the Portal video game) that I got J as a present. So M purchased a talking turret gun, and K bought herself a larger Companion Cube.
This would be school yesterday. With Portal.
When I watch my kids swim, I am amazed. They are unafraid. They swim better than I do, both of them. K is practically a fish, and M is diligently learning — he can swim lengths of the pool. Lengths. I am completely impressed.
Learning how to learn, this is a thing I want both of my children to understand in their bones. Academic learning, and physical learning. Those are two different things, and I learned neither of them particularly well. I never really needed to learn academic learning because it always came so effortlessly. (Until Calculus II, which I nearly failed.) And I never understood that physical learning meant practicing a skill over and over again. I thought that once I understood how a thing was supposed to work, that ought to be the same as being able to do it. When I could not do the thing, I read more about it in an effort to perfect my understanding. Oddly enough, this never led to me being able to throw a knife with any accuracy.
I think my kids understand this better than I do. They resent it, certainly. They want instant gratification like everyone else does. But steady progress is something that they can see. They can measure their skills. They can advance through the YMCA swim program classes with pride.
J and I were talking yesterday about cultural literacy. At playgroup on Tuesday, one of the kids asked what this gully in the woods was, and J replied it was where the old trolley line used to run, and the kid asked, “what’s a trolley?” Now, the child in question is, I think, six years old, and “trolley” is not an everyday word or concept. But it started J, and then myself when we talked about it, to thinking.
There is no worthless information.
I just seconds ago, saw on Twitter that someone purchased some of Justin Bieber’s hair for $40,000. You may think this is worthless information. But in my life, in teaching my children about the world, this information is a source of wisdom. It shows that people make poor financial decisions when their emotions are involved. It shows the power of celebrity. It shows, with a bit of explanation from me, that there’s a sucker born every minute and that there always has been. It shows, with a different bit of explanation, how celebrity is changing in the age of the internet. A change, I might note, that is no change at all to my kids. This is their world; they don’t recall the age of mass-broadcast television or radio.
The Bieber hair example is a bit extreme, and I did not actually stop and explain it to the kids or make a teaching point out of it. But while going over the BBC website before breakfast I did have the kids watch a clip, in addition to the news from Libya, about the New York 1970s SoHo art scene. There is no worthless information.
This attitude I have towards knowledge, this is not a value universally held among people I know. It’s not even universally held among homeschoolers. I suspect it is valued more among academics and geeks. I look at the kids I know, the ones who are my kids’ ages, who can’t read yet and I am vaguely horrified. It’s not that they are behind in any sense. I mean, in a typical school curriculum in the U.S. first and second grades are spent learning to read. This is normal, acceptable, and on-track. It’s that they are wasting valuable reading years. Think of all the books going UNREAD.
It’s not just books, though, that hold information. There’s music — classical, pop, musicals, whatever. There’s movies and television — documentaries, sure, but also Disney and Gnomeo and Juliet or Spy Kids. All of these things, if they provide no other information whatsoever, can be an example of what NOT to do or say.
For example, last night on the way back from circus class we were listening to the kids’ most recent pop music playlist. I make these playlists on my Zune and we listen to them when I drive them around. This particular mix had Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R.” After listening to it three times at K’s request, M said, “the people in this club are kind of like Team Rocket, aren’t they?”
I nearly did a fist-pump of joy.
Team Rocket, for those not immersed in the world of Pokemon, are a Pokemon crime syndicate. They are self-absorbed, stylish, ruthless, arrogant, and goal-oriented. They are also an attractive sort of bad guy, with good clothes and hair — they are more mature, or they try to be.
The gist of the Ke$ha song is that the people in the bar or club are going to drink and dance as much as they like, uncaring of anyone else’s opinions or judgment, and refuse to apologize for who and what they are.
“Yes,” I told M. “The people in this song are kind of like Team Rocket.”
There is no worthless information. Recognizing selfish, self-absorbed people, even when they sound interesting and are having a lot of ostensible fun, this is a valuable life skill. My GOODNESS, I wish I had picked it up sooner.
I’m not saying that my kids won’t make poor relationship mistakes in the future, ahahahhahahahha, no, I am not claiming that. But this, this is a start, a step in navigating the extremely complex world of social networks and interactions. Those things are hard, the skills are learned from practice, usually on real people. And if my kids can get an assist from Pokemon and Ke$ha, good for them.
1. Now I’m following the political situations in Libya and Bahrain. I’m not certain what I get out of this, you know? There’s *certainly* nothing I can do for the people being shot by their governments. But I am very aware that the political struggles of people who are not white Americans often fall under the U.S. radar. Part of why I choose to get my news from the BBC is to combat that tendency. I want my kids to grow up with a native sense that the planet is full of people who, every day, are struggling and celebrating, fighting and making peace, and their lives are equally as important as anything that is happening here. Protesters being gunned down in the streets of Bahrain is news. The tax referendums regarding repairing the Metrodome roof are also news, and will likely affect us personally more. But the South Sudan independence referendum is going to determine the lives of millions of people, and I think that’s more important than local sports.
2. The kids are at a slow bit in math. M could do long division, he can do it when we keep him on task, but ohhhh, it is so LONG and has so many STEPS and the world is full of OTHER THINGS to look at and think about! Like Pokemon! And robots! And mega-cyclones! So, anyway, we are making him practice one or two long division problems each day, just to get the work in. It takes forever.
K is stalled out on a different aspect. She can do arithmetic just fine, but she cannot determine what a word problem is asking of her. The only catch is, life is nothing but word problems. I mean, no one is going to ask you, at age thirty, to recite your times tables. But they will ask you how much lumber you need for that fence, and then there you are, trying to figure out how many board-feet you need and making sure you don’t forget that the three two-foot stubs leftover from sawing do not actually equal a six-foot fencepost and you need another whole board.
I am a little frustrated with this problem K is having, through no fault of hers, simply because I get this part of math in a way that makes it a struggle for me to explain. Luckily, the Singapore Math books do a really good job with this and I can simply rely on them.
3. We had a lovely, lovely two days of thaw. The huge line-of-sight snowpile obstructions are reduced, making driving easier. But the temperature dropped back down and all the melted water has refrozen into sheets of ice everywhere. Luckily, the end is in sight. March will be here soon, bringing a ton more snow to be sure, but all of that snow will MELT.