Sunday, April 29, 2007

Maypole Dance

Victor and Roberta are considering moving into a cohousing community called Songaia in Bothell Washington. We think it's a cool ecologically sound idea. Everyone has their own house, but the group shares resources and responsibilities for meal preparation, grounds keeping, recycling, gardening, and community activities. We were thinking it would be cool to find an urban cottage community with progressive values but one that doesn't require as much intense community organization and responsibility, i.e. no meal sharing.

Yesterday we went to their Earth Day / May Day celebration. They planted roses, trees and held a maypole dance. Maypole has its origins in Scandanavia and Germany as fertility ritual (no surprise there); it's a nice community building way to celebrate the arrival of spring and summer. We wrapped ribbons around the pole until we were a clotted mess of people and couldn't move anymore.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sudbury Schools

We're struggling to find a solution to Elliot's lack of interest in doing work in Kindergarten. Is it classic immature boy syndrome? Does he have ADD? Learning disabilities? His skills are in the normal range and he doesn't qualify for special education. He's not doing anything nefarious. He says he wants to choose his own works, he wants to do works with other kids and that he gets really tired after doing his works and wants to lie down. He's been getting into trouble for falling off his chair, talking to other kids during class and lying down. He's obviously not engaged. So much of it seems like normal behavior, I hate to see him internalizing his inability to fit in.

Montessori is supposed to teach to the individual's learning style, but it's also a public Montessori and they must also teach the standard curriculum as mandated by the state. We're going to work through it and send him to a non-Montessori classroom next year. We have to be very involved in his school and homework. But I want him to be genuinely motivated to learn.

I'm researching alternative education programs. Emergent curriculum programs, like Sudbury sound like they really do foster intellectual curiosity and responsibility.

"Human beings are intrinsically curious and motivated to learn"
The Clearwater School
is part of an international movement of Sudbury schools. The Sudbury model runs counter to the prevalent education system based on top down management, mandatory coursework and standardized testing. Yet Sudbury graduates are consistently successful in their adult lives—pursuing higher education and entering creative and entrepreneurial careers. They take on difficult challenges with confidence, achieve their personal goals and most importantly, make sure they lead meaningful lives. Sudbury students are characteristically articulate, compassionate individuals who know how to work with others, think critically, engage their creativity and solve problems—the skills most valued by employers and centers of higher learning.

Each day, Clearwater students explore the world guided by their own interests, moving at their own pace. Free to think about who they are and what to do with their time, they play, talk openly with friends, investigate the world and dream. Students draw from our staff and resources, as well as the offerings of the local community.

Without grades, groupings by age or mandatory tests, children engage wholeheartedly in their passions—discovering for themselves their place in the world.

Whether Clearwater students are passionate about dinosaurs, literature, art or computers, we make a point of not intruding on their natural drive to learn. We trust that they want to grow, want to thrive and want to become like the people around them: literate, articulate and compassionate.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Neurotic Angst + the Wild Magic of Growing a Family

I just finished reading "Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family" by Catherine Newman. Newman nailed the messiness and craziness of life with two really young kids. Very funny and mostly honest. She talks about her "grief stricken stupor of doting" and how "I wasn't prepared for my terror - twinned freakishly with this love."

She highlights the positive/wacky/strange elements more than the depressing aspects. She writes about her husband as if he's a complete saint, which I'm sure isn't totally accurate. Also, her older son is precocious and she often quotes him for no other purpose but to show how clever he is, but it still made me laugh and she's a good writer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Earth Day

Elliot came home from school filled with information about global warming, "In space there is the earth and the solar system and above the solar system is the future. We'll destroy the future if we don't stop global warming." I love his theory about the future.

Then he exclaimed "I'm going to walk to school instead of drive from now on," a noble thought, but unfortunately it would take an hour to get to school if he walked. He also said,"Don't use a hair dryer Mom." I suppose that could be green advice (don't use electricity if you don't have to) or is it because he thinks it will warm the globe?

Here is list of tips for decreasing your ecological footprint:
  • Turn it off when not in use.
  • Turn down the central heating slightly (1 or 2 degrees).
  • Only run your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load.
  • Recycle paper, glass and plastics (a City of Seattle requirement).
  • Use every piece of paper twice.
  • Don't use "throw away" products such as paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils.
  • Use reusable plastic containers in lunchboxes, instead of plastic bags.
  • Take your own bags to shops and grocery stores.
  • Look for products that have less packaging.
  • Buy organic and local.
  • Don't buy bottled water if tap water is safe.
  • Choose biodegradable cleaning products.
  • Buy energy-efficient household appliances.
  • Use energy-saving light bulbs.
  • Stop using chemical pesticides on your lawn and garden.
  • Drive an energy-efficient car and walk or ride a bicycle when possible.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Seattle Summer Camp Craziness

If Elliot had lived 100 years ago, he would have spent his summers harvesting wheat or picking blueberries and peaches on the family farm or he might have wandered the streets with a band of feral kids. He might have spent his time shooting marbles or lazing under a shady tree. As a kid, I remember doing nothing but reading, swimming, and hanging out at the beach all summer long. But it's 2007 and he gets to spend his summer as a pirate, a wizard and a naturalist. Dan is going to be home all summer with the kids, but he would go crazy if he had both kids all day alone. Why don't we have year round school?

A mom I know who grew up in Alaska complained about how we have too many choices in Seattle. It would make things simpler if we didn't have 5,000 summer day camps to choose from. I've been researching and trying to pair Elliot up with his friends at various Seattle day camp programs for weeks now. It's only April, but some camps are already booked.

University of Washington Summer Youth Programs
Fairies, Wizards and Dragons - Oh My!
As we look forward to the next Harry Potter book hitting the stores, come join us at summer camp where we will have lots of fun exploring fantasy, mythology and magic, through stories, art, drama, creative writing and science!

EarthKeepers at Carkeek Park
Our caring, trained naturalists will help open a world of discovery for your child using the unique outdoor classroom environment of Carkeek Park.

Dragonfire Pirate Camp

There are projects every day, including making a dagger or sword, or building a raft big enough to hold 20 young pirates in shallow water. Or digging in the secret Pirate Mine, which is "seeded" nightly with trinkets and treasure items such as old coins, chains and sparkly stuff.

There are also at least 10 types of soccer camps, drama camps, and art camps. I'm exhausted.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

1970s Kid TV vs 2000s Kid TV

Elliot loves Star Wars, Captain Jack disco songs, grass green crocs and long red satin basketball shorts. He's never seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, yet he thinks they're super cool. His cultural references are heavily influenced by other kids.

He's seen plenty of Disney movies (we learned long ago that Pinnochio, Dumbo and Sleeping Beauty are brutal and not for kids under 7), but in terms of TV influences, he's been bred completely on PBS thus far. Luckily, Asher still doesn't really care about TV, it's on for an hour in the morning, but he walks away and busies himself with mischievious projects such as transfering the shoes in my closet to under our couch.

GenXers suffer from 70s and 80s nostalgia, it's baked into our culture. Of course I'm going to idealize my childhood pop culture references. Did the 70s offer superior television for kids? In terms of PBS shows, I will say hands down yes. The Electric Company taught intitial sounds, letter recognition and all kinds of beginning reading skills that are not present in any of the cartoons my boys watch.

As a younger kid in the 1970s, I watched the classic golden age of educational television programming:

Electric Company
Big Blue Marble
Vie Allegra
Seasame Street
Captain Kangaroo
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

As I got older, my brother and I spent hours on the floor of our den two feet away from the TV watching endless cartoons that had little educational value.

Schoolhouse Rock
Fat Albert
Scooby Doo
Tom Slick
Super Chicken
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

I did have brutal nail scratching fights with Michael over how long he could watch unsavory violent shows such as Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. Violence breeds violence?

The live action shows with surreal themes were like candy. These shows are always mentioned when you get a few 30+ year olds together talking about their childhoods.

Land of the Lost
HR Puffnstuf
Sigmund and the Seamonsters
The Monkees
Brady Bunch
Partridge Family

Kid TV in the 2000s
PBS Kids shows are for the most part, just plain terrible. I trained Elliot to despise Barney, so that was never a problem. He's always disliked Jakers for some reason, maybe it's the accents. He's dissed Seasame Street, It's a Big Big World, Mustard Pancakes and Berenstain Bears (which I like). We don't have cable and he doesn't watch after school TV so that restriction has limited his exposure thus far.

His TV diet consists of mostly insipid whiny cartoons, where the emphasis is on social emotional navigation. He's bored of them all, unfortunately that doesn't mean Elliot won't watch them anyway. Arthur is the only PBS show that is bearable. We rented a few Magic School Bus and Time Warp Trio videos recently both of which were well written, educational and funny. The current line up on PBS is truly awful:

Bob the Builder (the Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This message does stay with the kids)
Curious George
Arthur (I love Arthur, sharp writing, it nails kid culture)

I'm not saying that I feel bad for his generation for not having good cartoons or TV shows. Maybe we're just out of the loop. I'm sure if we had cable it would be a different story. Or maybe it's a sign that kids are watching less TV or place less value on TV than my generation.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Spring Rituals

After a mostly disasterous Passover seder full of unruly kids last week (Alexa said, it was great to see that insanity is normal), we had a succesful mostly calm seder at Grandma and Grandpa's house on Easter sunday. When the boys do shabbat dinners at their house I'm told they have impeccable table manners. Victor produced a very short musical seder - all the hits of pesach - and the boys loved it, especially Asher. We took a break to dance around the living room. Asher asked for seconds of the gefilte fish. Everyone loved the matzah ball soup.

Montessori Birthday Circle

Elliot had his birthday circle at school last week.
In the Montessori tradition, the birthday child carries a globe around the circle for each year of their life representing the path of earth around sun during each year of the child's age. This Montessori ritual helps the child understand their birthday is more than just birthday cake and presents.

At the end of each trip around the sun, I talked about Elliot's achievements in that particular year. I didn't know I had to bring pictures for each year, oops.

Year One: Learned to crawl, laugh and sing.
Year Two: Learned to talk, visited Disneyland, visited Hawaii, played music.
Year Three: Learned to ride a bike. Dressed and toileted by himself. Big brother.
Year Four: Mastered the balance beam. Wrote a play that was produced by the school.
Year Five: Learned to swim by himself. Started kindergarten.
Goals for Year Six: "Be nice to my family. Ride a bike without training wheels. Learn to read."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

6 Year Old Boy

My first born is 6 today. He asked to have a night in the "family bed" for his birthday. We let him sleep with us, he's a deep sleeper, a good cuddler. On the eve of his 6th birthday, he felt compelled to return to babyhood. Kindergarten has been challenging for Elliot. He senses the big changes ahead, more responsibility, less silliness, work, work, work. Who wants to sit still, practicing letter formation when you could be chasing the girls around at recess? School is hard, it is challenging. He makes mistakes, his fine motor skills betray his creative, curious intellect. He's expected to act like his most grown up self at school. But he's not ready to leave babyhood completely behind. As Robert Munsch wrote, "I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ad-Busters Class for Kindergartners

The New Yorker printed this piece in the Talk of the Town this week about a kindergarten field trip to the supermarket aimed at teaching kids how to think critically about consumer products. I'm going to have to do a similar experiment with my kids. I think Elliot and Walter would hit it off, "I want to take off my underwear...I want candy!"

Smart Cookies by Rebecca Mead
It is sometimes suggested that schools no longer teach children values, but this assertion would not be true of P.S. 321, in Park Slope, which has been offering an “Ad-Busters” class as an after-school program, intended to impart radical skepticism to kindergartners. The class is taught by Susan Gregory Thomas, a P.S. 321 parent and the author of “Buy, Buy Baby,” a soon-to-be-published exposé of the depredations of kiddie consumer culture. One recent very cold Friday, Thomas’s charges were crowded around a lunch table in the cafeteria in advance of a field trip to Key Food.

“Who goes shopping with their parents?” Thomas, who has brown curly hair and was wearing a pastel-colored jacket trimmed with fake fur, asked.

Walter, whose lips bore faint traces of blue that might have been caused by food coloring (unlikely) or marker pen (probable), said, “I sometimes go to Met Foods, or D’Agostino’s.”

Ishai, who was eating a bag of Pirate’s Booty, said, “I go to the Food Co-op.” Thomas asked if Pirate’s Booty was healthy. “It’s snacky,” Ishai said.

“How do we know when something is healthy?” Thomas asked.

“From reading the nutrients list,” Ishai said.

“I can’t read,” Walter said, pulling on a fleece hat.

The children headed down Seventh Avenue holding hands in boy-girl pairs: their choice. The group passed Back to the Land Natural Foods and the D’Vine Taste fancy-food emporium.

“There’s the wine market!” a boy named James said.

“I want to take off my coat, I want to take off my hat, I want to take off my shoes, I want to take off my pants, I want to take off my underwear!” Walter was saying as he entered the supermarket. Once inside, he yelled, “I want candy!”

The children milled around a bin filled with bananas, blocking the efforts of a middle-aged man to navigate his shopping cart beyond Fruit. “I know what this is,” Walter said, momentarily dispirited. “It’s the grownup aisle.”

As the group rounded the corner into Canned Goods, a quiet boy named Charlie reached for a pack of soy chips. “We’re not buying those, Charlie,” Charlie’s dad, a parental monitor, said. “You had those for snack.” Thomas halted in front of an array of Campbell’s soups, pointing out that the packaging on many of the cans featured cartoon characters. “Leave the cans of soup on the shelf,” Charlie’s dad warned, as Charlie picked up two cans—bearing Chicken & Stars and Goldfish labels—and knocked over a display of pickle jars.

“Does anyone know what saturated fats are?” Thomas asked. “If you ate three of these cans in a day, you would be over the fat limit for a child of your age. You would have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have the cupcakes and the cookies.’ ”

A boy named Sam looked dubious. “I don’t even like soup,” he said.

Further along the aisle were packages of mix for macaroni and cheese. “Would you choose this one, or the one without characters?” asked Thomas, holding a box featuring Shrek.

“I’d choose the plain one,” Maeve, who had blond hair and was just getting over a cold, said. “Shrek is bad for you.”

“Why is all the macaroni and cheese orange?” Thomas asked.

“Food coloring!” Ishai said, dropping dramatically to the tiled floor and picking himself up.

“Who is it aimed at?” Thomas asked.

“Kids!” Ishai answered, dropping to the floor again.

In the cereal aisle, James, who was wearing a white Power Rangers cap, grabbed a box of Fruity Pebbles. “That’s ‘The Flintstones,’ ” he said. “That’s a very old show.”

Thomas picked up a box of Health Valley granola and asked, “What does ‘organic’ mean?”

“It means it’s organized,” a boy named Henry said. An older gentleman who was carrying a tub of Quaker Oats paused to listen. “You wonder why people are dying of heart attacks every day,” he said. “The corporations are running America and poisoning Americans, and the people don’t realize it. The politicians are paid off to let them kill people.”

Thomas ushered the children past Paper Products and back outside, where a truck decorated with a Canada Dry logo and covered with wintry ice was making a delivery.

“Icicles!” Walter shouted.

“Icicles aren’t packaged!” Ishai said.

“You can’t eat icicles,” a wary Maeve warned. None of the children expressed a desire for ginger ale.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Yellow Submarine Lyrics

We needed a refresher on the Yellow Submarine lyrics - one of the best sing along songs ever. The boys love watching the youtube music videos, it's much better than tv, so I'm happy to oblige. I didn't realize how much we sing in our house. I'm always amazed how easily Asher can learn to sing a song like Scarborough Fair (of course not the whole thing) having only heard it twice. The door is open, it's magic.

In the town where I was born,
Lived a man who sailed to sea,
And he told us of his life,
In the land of submarines,

So we sailed up to the sun,
Till we found a sea of green,
And we lived beneath the waves,
In our yellow submarine,

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,
We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,

And our friends are all aboard,
Many more of them live next door,
And the band begins to play.

(Trumpets play)

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,
We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,

(weird sounds)

As we live a life of ease,
Everyone of us has all we need (has all we need)
Sky of blue (sky of blue) and sea of green (sea of green)
In our yellow (in our yellow) submarine (submarine. Blaaaha)

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,
We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine,

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine.