Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Historically Speaking

Every homeschool parent has a favorite subject or subjects, as well as those they would love to expunge from the lesson plan - whether they admit it or do their best to feign neutrality is another matter altogether. I feel pretty comfortable with most subjects (although science experiments are an albatross) but I like to have some kind of overall plan, a parent's guide, or at least a workbook for most subjects.  I often get suggestions to play this game, or make up this worksheet, or do this exercise and usually I smile politely, say thank you, file it in an internal compartment for someday, and never think about it again.

History and geography are a whole other matter.  (I refuse to use the so-vague-it's-utterly-useless term social studies.  Even though I know my homeschool consultant has a little square on her matrix for it and has to combine everything vaguely related to culture, history, or geography, I stubbornly present her with Bean's work in the four distinct areas of US History, World History, Geography, and Foreign Language every month.)  I was the annoying kid in my eighth and ninth grade classes who insisted on setting the curve in US and World History.  I just couldn't help myself, no matter how many times my best frenemy casually mentioned that I was threatening her GPA.  I started out my college career as an Asian History major and even though I finished up with a major in Women's Studies, the concentration was in history and I made the surprising discovery during my senior year that I had enough credits to declare a minor in US History.  I have an easy facility with date memorization (I should say had - that was before two kids and eight years of sleep deprivation) and love the stories and connections that I saw in history.  I can call up the timeline of human history with savant-like precision and I'm not afraid to off-road if any subject Bean and I cover needs further explanation.  

Many homeschoolers use Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World series, even if they are not classical education adherents (Susan and her mother literally wrote the book on this brand of homeschool education.) I love reading Susan's blog and tweets, especially the entries which describe her writing and research process, and I don't have a position on whether her books are too secular or not secular enough (seriously folks, there could be an entire conference debating this subject.)  This is the one subject area where I want to take the reins in hand without the benefit of a thousand page guide.  I eagerly present Bean with a patchwork quilt of history and geography resources, lovingly curated by me.  I more or less follow Rebecca Rupp's suggested timeline and areas of concentration for each grade and use many of her resources.  However, I have no qualms about making substitutions, adding in something that catches my or Bean's current fancy or elaborating or refuting any point an author makes. This is my metier and any modesty on my part would be wholly false.

Since we first started homeschooling, we have been making the grand tour of US colonial and Revolutionary history and are now taking a more in depth view at the birth of the nation, also known as the writing of the Constitution.  Along the way, we've made brief forays into slavery and westward expansion (pioneers) just because we couldn't help ourselves -and because there were pressing questions about the hideous nature of the first and the second provides rich make-believe fodder.  For first and second grade, Bean and I loved the If You... series of books by Scholastic, which allow kids to imagine themselves as children in other eras.  There are many, many titles by various authors, covering all aspects of American history (including books on many individual Native American tribes.)  Another good, early grades source is the American Kids in History series of activity books, also from Scholastic.    I think we'll come back to both of these resources as we introduce other eras.   We just finished reading a number of books by Jean Fritz, each about a different Colonial or Revolutionary War figure.  I love Fritz' books for third/fourth grade, because they require a little more listening/reading stamina than other kids' books of this genre (each one is about 30-40 pages), yet they are completely accessible and retain kids' attention.  They are both humorous and very detailed, another rare plus in history books for kids, which usually have one or the other quality.

We are now alternating between George Washington's World, by Genevieve Foster and A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights by Kathleen Krull.  The latter is self-explanatory, but the Foster book is in a class by itself - in fact each of her volumes that are centered around a different (male) historical figure (Julius Cesar, Christopher Columbus, John Smith, Abraham Lincoln) could stand alone as a text in a middle or even high school history class.  The premise is unique: Foster starts with a dominant figure in a particular era,  then paints a very full picture of the world around and far beyond them.  For example, the George Washington book divides his life into six parts and describes his life in detail at the start of the chapter.  Further sections describe the life of his contemporaries all over America and the rest of the world, including African and Asian kings, Catherine the Great, and Junipero Serra.  In this way, early US history is put into world context.  The information isn't necessarily unique, but the method of presenting and packaging it is singular.

For world history, we started off in first/second grade covering general European history of the middle ages.  My favorite resources for the Middle Ages are David Macaulay's Cathedral and Castle books.  Macaulay is a genius illustrator and the text mostly lives up to the drawing.  (Depending on age and temperament, you may need to do some parental editing.)  For older kids, Bean and I have been reading our way through Karen Cushman's medieval fiction for kids.  Mathilda Bone and The Midwife's Apprentice both feature female protagonists who accidentally find roles for themselves in the medieval versions of medicine.  Along the way, kids learn about medicine, midwifery, daily life, religion, and class in the England of the Middle Ages - all from the perspective of preteen girls.  (Her novels are appropriately graphic for their time period, but not gratuitous -definitely better for an older child and not always good at bedtime.)

In the early grades, we also touched on Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Roman histories, mostly using the Children of the Ancient World series from Cricket Books.  These books are structured differently from the If You series mentioned above, but also appeal to kids by focusing on what life was like for children in each time and place.  D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths is a classic companion to Ancient Greek study.  Bean loves the brief descriptions of each member of the (rather twisted) Olympian family and we have fun seeing how each divinity was used to explain something in the natural world.

For third grade, we focused on the Renaissance, which consisted of several decent, but not memorable biographies of Michelangelo and Da Vinci.  (The next time we come around to this topic, I will definitely take a look at Susan Wise Bauer's history of the Renaissance, currently in production.) Our favorite resource for this time period is the Renaissance and Post Renaissance chapter of the activity book Discovering Great Artists, by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga.  Introductions to each artist are followed by art projects in their style or method - such as making homemade tempera with chalk and egg or "fresco" painting on plaster of paris in a pie tin.  My favorite part is that I can pick up the book on the fly and actually find a project we can do right then and there with things in the house - no project-delaying trip to the art store required.

For the last few months, we've been studying the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan cultures using the DK Eyewitness book on the subject.  I usually find these books tedious for read-alouds, and more suited to quiet time spent pouring over the interesting pages on one's own, but this time we've made it work with a combination of me reading aloud and Bean reading to herself.  Bean wanted to try some hands-on Mayan-inspired activities, so we'll be starting the Kaleidoscope Kids Book Mexico: 40 Activities to Experience Mexico Past & Present soon.

The one thing I do not use in history is any kind of workbook or written assignment.  I know this puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to producing work samples, but I haven't found any history workbooks that I like, nevermind the fabulously picky Bean.  What I want for Bean is that she has a broad and rich understanding of human history and of our world - and broader and more rich than I think she would receive in school.  I don't want a high school AP class to be the first time she hears about Hadrian's Wall and I want her to know that John Hancock was a person, not a John Doe signature.  I want her to have a working knowledge of what plausibly happened in what era and which came first, the Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  If she memorizes a few places and dates along the way, great - but not required.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Post I Don't Want to Write

I've started this post four times and can't seem to get it written, or get it right.  Either I, or a sneaky Boo, accidentally published a few errant sentences last week that slipped from my fingers a few weeks ago. I've written snippets here and there on Google Plus, in Facebook messages to friends, and on replies to other people's problems on message boards.  What I haven't done is write about Bean's diagnosis here - it's all still in my head.

The biggest surprise about her "official-after-way-too-much-money-reams-of-forms-and-six-hours-of-testing" diagnosis is that there is a diagnosis.  In that secret place inside my head, way more secret than a Facebook status or the confines of this blog, I really thought the nice neuropsychologist would tell us that Bean is just fucking brilliant and that gifted is not a diagnosis.  

This is not what she said.  Not by a long shot.  She did say that Bean is very bright, gifted even.  She also said that Bean has Asperger's Disorder and ADHD, combined type which is often attendant with Asperger's but is not the main show in town.  Clearly, Bean is high-functioning to be sure, but firmly and squarely on the Autistic Spectrum, not hovering at the edges.

I know, this shouldn't be a surprise.  I mean, I already blogged about it, so it must be true, right? Honestly, until we received the results from the testing, I didn't really believe it.  I was sure I was wrong and that her pediatrician who's known her most of her life wasn't qualified and that the neurologist didn't really talk to her long enough or examine her thoroughly enough.  I was sure that all my well-meaning friends who think she's lovely were on to something and I was just asking for trouble.  (Because she is lovely - if she doesn't wake up after daylight breaks, and you're not rushing her, or using abstract explanations, or trying to get her to do something in a specific way, or clapping near her; or if you're another kid who doesn't really want to hear about dentistry, or doesn't understand why she's thowing her bike across the park because she can't figure out how to peddle the damn thing, or thinks she's standing a bit too close or holding hands or planting a kiss when it's really unexpected, or letting out the odd whoop on the play structure; or when she's had a half-hour too much social interaction for the day and she's getting manic, or melting down, or just drifting off out of reach, like a radio not quite tuned to the right station setting).

I always avoided reading the literature about Asperger's.  I read about giftedness, which seemed kind of, but not totally right.  And I read about ADHD, with similar feelings.  Or I read about the autistic kids who were middle to low functioning and non-verbal, and clearly that wasn't right.  But when I sat listening to the neuropsychologist, who was lovely in her own right - except when she said, "It is definitely Asperger's, every area of deficit, is related to Asperger's" - and when I cracked open the book I smuggled out of the Amazon box before Bean could see it, "Helping Your Child with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder or Asperger's Disorder," I knew this was right.

The biggest surprises of the diagnosis all went hand in hand with each other and with Asperger's: there are no learning disabilities, only poor working memory, slow processing speed, and very little ability to predict outcomes or make inferences.  Well, I'm no expert, but I think this is a working definition of the cognitive aspects of Asperger's that give rise to the social complications.  These issues contribute to Bean's below average reading comprehension skills, despite having decoding skills above the 95th percentile.  Her Asperger's tendencies are also to blame for poor handwriting and persistent dysgraphia - she's insisting that her stronger left brain that doesn't put up with abstractions stay in charge of the operation.  Even her striking attention deficits are more a partner in crime of Asperger's than a stand alone diagnosis.  The results explain why even though every teacher she ever had could tell she was bright, they were confounded by her difficulties with understanding instructions and why she dances beautifully at home, but stiffens up and stumbles over which foot is which in a class setting where there are too many kids for her to concentrate and the instructions don't make sense. (Bean tearfully ended fours years of ballet instruction last week because her beloved teacher is about to give birth and her previous teacher uses terms like "carmel legs" that make no sense to Bean, instead of "real" terms.)

Nearly three weeks later, Dr. Yap and I have finished the late night rehashing of the results. We're starting behavior modification at home (if I had known putting a nickel in a jar labeled Dentistry School Fund would get Bean to wear underwear or do a multiplication problem, or write a sentence - I might have tried it long ago).  Bean has begun meeting with a chid psychologist who specializes in working with kids with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, though she knows it as "friendship coaching." Down the road, when the final written report is in hand (warning to anyone headed down the diagnostic path - these things take months) Bean will start working with an occupational therapist on fine and large motor skills, and sensory issues.  We'll look for a tutor or tutors to help with reading comprehension and the boring math Bean hates.  And maybe, we'll even look for a school placement some time in the future.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the Books

When I first saw that The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books For Children, had separate sections for Picture Books and Story Books, I thought they were really hanging their hats on semantics.  Because this is my beloved NYT Guide, I gave it a chance and looked closely at the introduction to the Story Book section which states, "Younger children can frequently listen to the text...with pleasure, but they are best suited for children in the early grades." (p. 107)  So far, Boo has borne out this statement, with startling accuracy.  Every once in a while he listens to one of the stories (such as The Adventures of Maxi Dog) with the same attention he reserves for an episode of Blue's Clues, and he is sometimes distractingly interested in the illustrations (the pictures of Joan of Arc with her armor and sword piqued his curiosity to the point that I just gave him the book and moved on to another one).  Overall though, I can draw a quick timeline of when he became glaringly uninterested in read-alouds during our school day and it starts right about where this section begins.

The Accident
Written by Carol Carrick and Illustrated by Donald Carrick
We didn't actually read The Accident, which is the middle of a trilogy of books about Christopher and his dog Bodger.  Truthfully, I was grateful my library didn't have this one because after being introduced to the boy and his dog in Lost in the Storm (which is exactly what happens to Bodger, but there's a happy ending), in The Accident, Bodger is hit by a truck and killed.  No parental hand-wringing or decision-making was required to check out Lost in the Storm and the final book, The Foundling, in which Christopher bonds with a stray despite his grief over Bodger - however, I did a quick pre-read in stacks before it went in the bag.

The Adventures of Taxi Dog
Written by Debra Baracca and Illustrated by Marc Buehner
Boo and I read one of the sequels about Maxi, the Taxi Dog while sitting on the floor of our favorite children's consignment shop.  He enjoyed it, but not enough to take it home, and I only remember wondering why it wasn't placed in the Picture Book section of the Guide.  I must confess that I was left with such an overwhelming feeling of being underwhelmed, that I never sought out the original, even though I must pass by it all the time at the library.   One day, if it makes itself glaringly obvious on my trajectory through the children's section, I'll rectify my judgmental ways and bring it home.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Written by Judith Viorst and Illustrated by Ray Cruz
There is something utterly dated about the illustrations and characters in this and other books about the curmudgeonly, elementary school misanthrope that I adore.  I think I identify more strongly with Alexander than Bean does.  In fact, I don't think she identifies with him at all, but she doesn't mind reading most of them; the exception being I'll Fix Anthony, whose revenge theme is a bit un-PC for her sensibilities.  Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday is a cautionary tale mentioned in homeschool tomes as a good resource for beginning financial management.  Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move takes young readers on a full venting journey, before he finally comes around and faces reality in the end.

All About Alfie
Written and Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
The Alfie books are one of those nice surprises that endears me to the Guide and keeps me pig-headedly glued to my quest to force feed - I mean force read - I mean read with no coercion what so ever- as many of the books as possible to Bean and Boo.  The stories are pleasant tales about Alfie and his little sister Annie that don't knock you over the head with purple prose, life lessons or cleverness, but I love the illustrations and the setting, which I presume is in Yorkshire or some other naturally bucolic corner of the UK.

Always Room for One More
Written by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
Absurdist fable alert!  Not only is it absurd in the most hilariously ridiculous way that even Boo thought was a riot, it is set in Scotland, which means you get to read it with your best bad Scottish brogue.  I for one, look for opportunities to use my best bad accents.  If you don't, your kids are really missing out on opportunities to be either extremely tickled or extremely embarrassed - both of which are good for them.

The Amazing Bone
Written and Illustrated by William Steig 
I actually considered writing a whole post on William Steig because both Bean and I run very hot and cold and are very much in agreement about his books.  This one is in the cold category.  It's just plain weird, and not in the pleasant way that I seek out.  I wanted to like the story about Pearl the pig who found a talking bone that had fallen out of a witch's pocket, but I just couldn't.  Neither could Bean or Boo.

Amazing Grace
Written by Mary Hoffman and Illustrated by Caroline Binch
Yay for girl power books!  Yay for girl power books with girls who defy all the naysayers and have good illustrations to boot.  This book is especially good for kids whose interests break the mold or kids who are interested in the theater .(P.S. This book isn't just for girls.)

Annie and the Old One
Written by Miska Miles and Illsutrated by Peter Parnell
I love Peter Parnell's evocative line drawings, which immediately transport the the reader to the southwest - even if you've never actually been there.  (He also lends his very distinctive style to the illustrations in all of Byrd Baylor's books, with similar results.) Annie and the Old One is a touching, but not overly emotional story about a girl realizing that her grandmother is close to death.  Rather than sitting in grief or anger, the story follows the little girl as she learns to let go of her grandmother.  The family is very obviously Native American and I think this serves to make the story powerful, but not necessarily upsetting for kids.  Because it is set in a different culture young listeners can separate themselves just enough for comfort, but slightly older kids who've been introduced to this culture already will recognize lessons about the cycle of life and get even more out of the story.  Annie and the Old One is beautifully, sensitively written in a way that does not read "BIBLIOTHERAPY."

Annie and the Wild Animals
Written and Illustrated by Jan Brett
I personally love Jan Brett's rich, colorful illustration style and how the pictures literally tell a side story on the edges of the page.  I don't know how authentically she captures the various cultures that her stories embody, but I love them just the same.  Checking out this book, along with The Mitten, Berlioz the Bear, The First Dog, and Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, gave us a reason to have an overdue Jan Brett fest in combination with other titles we had at home.

Art Dog
Written and Illsutrated by Thacher Hurd
Art Dog is a perfectly silly caper with nary an artful illustration or lesson in sight.  This tale of a security guard turned vigilante art rescuer is good fun for both Boos and Beans, but the Boos (2/3) in the group won't get the inside art jokes that the Beans (7/8) might.

Arthur's Nose
Written and Illustrated by Marc Brown
I find it interesting that Bean likes watching the television series based on Marc Brown's supposed aardvark and likes reading Arthur's Nose and the other original Arthur books, but she doesn't care for the books based on the TV show.  It's fascinating because the Arthur of Arthur's Nose, Arthur's Eyes, Arthur's Tooth and Arthur's Glasses actually looks like an aardvark, albeit an anthropomorphized version.  The Arthur of the TV show looks more like a gopher or chipmunk, or some other nondescript member of the large rodent family.  The whole premise of the original book was that a young aardvark was learning to accept his prominent proboscis.  The irony is completely lost on Bean, who until very recently was often confused by the difference between fiction and nonfiction on non-animated movies and TV.  Maybe Arthur's incongruous nose and message don't bother her because the show is animated and therefore automatically outside the realm of the possible.  When I asked Bean if she thought it was odd that his nose was one way in this book and another on television, she basically gave me a regurgitated response on the differences that manifest when a book becomes a TV show, which sounded almost exactly like what I told her that last time this inconsistency (in what book/show I don't remember) nearly sent her over the edge.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On the Other Hand

On the one hand, I'm putting on my blinders, covering my ears, and singing LALALA to block out the back to school business so it doesn't stress me out (and lead me to stress out Bean) unnecessarily.  

On the other hand, I'm preparing almost3yearold for preschool, making lists of what to pack for his lunch, getting immunization records, filling out forms, getting Bean ready for ballet (how did every part of her body grow a size in 3 months?) and vowing that this is the year I will not be undone by doing a ballet bun in uber-curly hair twice a week because I really, really, really will always be prepared with hairpins, hairnets, a hairspray.  

On the one hand, I'm keeping my head down and eyes focused on our current lesson plan and the daily rhythm that works for us.  

On the other hand, I know we'll be meeting with our consulting teacher soon so I better turn my list of what we do into something she can file for the state-mandated records.  I keep double-checking the schedule, making sure there is no overlap between Bean's dance class and Boo's swimming lessons and Bean's homeschool class and Boo's preschool pick up.   

On the one hand, I love the information and support from various homeschool lists and groups that fill my inbox throughout the day.

On the other hand, I've learned to quickly sift through the onslaught of information and delete mercilessly before panic ensues.  At last count, I receive e-mail from 8 different homeschool groups.  I have stopped looking at email from two curriculum-specific groups altogether, only glance at the comings and goings of the local unschoolers group out of the corner of my eye, and deeply regret signing on to a group last week that had "Homeschool Field Trip" in the name but seems to be a clearing house for classes available on the other side of the mountain from where we live.  The other four groups offer a mix of resources and support and as much as I'd like to read about everyone's travails and find out about the latest robotics/chemistry/creative writing class, I know at least fifty percent of the messages are not meant for me.  And don't even get me started on the homeschoolers circle on Google + or the Secular Homeschool board online.  

On the one hand, I'm exalting in the promise of two hours to myself on Wednesday morning and two mornings to focus on Bean and her school work.  

On the other hand, I'm resisting the urge to  schedule an appointment every week from here to Christmas.  Dr. Yap reminded me yesterday, as I rattled off a litany of appointments I want to make a friends I want to visit sans kiddos, that I could also stay home and just do nothing.  Or, she casually remarked, I could try to make some headway on Little Big Planet on the Playstation. (Seriously, half the time I love that she thinks video games are the only truly acceptable form of recreation, and the other half of the time, I wish she'd just let me knit or read a book in peace.) 

Is this time of year really all that different for homeschoolers after all? I feel like I'm feeling the same mix of anticipation, relief, and anxiety that I felt in every other August before we started homeschooling.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Poetry on the Fly

One of the reasons it was so easy for me to become a school dropout (i.e. homeschooler) is that I realized, during three years of preschool and one and a half years of elementary school, that I have rather strong opinions about what Bean (and Boo) could be learning and Dr. Yap and I wanted all of us (that means the kiddos too) to have more of a say in what our kids were learning and how it was learned.  It drove me nuts to have to go along with whatever the teacher thought was important when half the time I didn't know what that was and the other half of the time I didn't think the teacher knew what she was doing.  ( Oh yes, I am one of those parents.) I remember one of many frustrating conversations in particular.  I think the teacher (who will remain anonymous because I live in a small town with lots of internet access) and I were talking about spelling/reading confusing words.  She said "Well, I just tell the kids that English is a weird language and doesn't always make sense."  I tried not to blanch visibly and said, "I've always taught her that many of the words in our language originally come from other languages, which is why they seem to have unusual or phonetically awkward pronunciation and spelling.  I also remind her that language is constructed and much of American English was codified by Daniel Webster when he compiled his dictionary and decided what the standard spelling should be for our words."  I think the word gobsmacked was invented to describe her reaction.  I also think I can read minds because I distinctly heard her say, "Smartass" and "No wonder the kid is having a hard time" without seeing her lips move.

Well.  Now that the choice is ours, Bean and I choose poetry.  This is a very clear case of parenting by projection: I'm unabashedly making up for a lack in my own education by immersing Bean and Boo in verse.  Christmas gift volumes of Shel Silverstein poetry aside, I don't remember reading anything more poetic than a Shakespeare sonnet until boarding school (not that kind of boarding school, this kind of boarding school.) I spent much of my sophomore year of high school moping around the cavernous building, avoiding physics by reading  "Howl" by Allen Ginsburg and discovering Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton in the Norton Anthology. It was revelatory.  I added the absence of "real" poetry in my life up to that point to my long list of adolescent grievances.  That same angst fueled my own stereotypically overwrought poetry.  In college, I took a class titled "American Women Poets," which finally taught me how to read and write poetry.  (And, incredibly, it is still being taught by the same amazing professor nearly twenty years later.) The lessons I learned about writing in general and reading poetry in particular, and about listening to women's voices have stayed with me throughout my life.  Not a draft gets written that I don't remember the professor's admonishment to cut out that first paragraph full of beautiful, prosaic, egotistical garbage. (Yeah, I often ignore it though.) The book covers for Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, and Rita Dove are still lodged in my mind and many of their words still burn bright.  Some of these poems became the ceremony when Dr. Yap and were married the first, poetic, illegitimate time. (The second, legitimate time had a poetry all its own that could only be captured in an official marriage license.)

So I think poetry is important.  It is probably more important for an 8-year-old to be immersed in poetry as the art of language, verse, and writing than it is for a self-absorbed 20-year-old.  I've always read poetry to Bean and Boo, whether it was a picture book made up entirely of one poem or a volume of children's poetry.  It didn't seem at all odd to Bean that it was part of our curriculum when we started doing "fourth grade."

Rebecca Rupp suggests two books for the study of poetry in the Fourth Grade Section of Home Learning Year by Year.  I rarely buy homeschool books new, sight unseen, but I feel pretty comfortable with most of Rupp's suggestions so I ordered Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? from Amazon after reading the favorable reviews to go along with Rupp's description: "A superb program for teaching great poetry to children. The works of many famous poets serve as jumping-off points for student projects." (Rupp, p. 187)  Reading the word "program," I expected step by step instructions, or at least a bullet-point layout.  Instead, Kenneth Koch's instructions for "Teaching Great Poetry to Children" (subtitle) are embedded in his narrative description of introducing ten classic (read "usually inaccessible to anyone but grad students") poems to various grade levels, along with numerous examples of the children's work.  The second half of the book is an anthology of sorts, providing more good poems to use in a grade school elementary class.  Most poems have suggested exercises to go along with them.  The book is fantastic but after stumbling through three of the classic poems without reading Koch's narrative first, I decided it requires a level of preparation that I just can't commit to right now.  I don't mind buying it, because I know that Rupp suggests the book again in a later grade.  Hopefully, I'll be able to manage a little more prep time at that point.

The other book Rupp suggested, Poetry From A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers, by Paul B. Janeczko, is available at our local library.  Bean and I immediately took to this book.  The order imposed by the alphabetical premise and the whimsy with which the mission is carried out appeals to both of us.  Sometimes the connections between the letter and the poetry are obvious: "A" is accompanied by the poem "Autumn Beat" by Monica Kulling and a suggestion to try writing an "acrostic poem." Some of the connections require careful reading and bit of deduction: "E" is accompanied by the poem "The Animals Are Leaving," by Charles Webb, which turns out to list endangered and extinct species; and a comment from the same poet about using ones own experiences in writing.  Bean doesn't always want to write the suggested poetic forms when we are reading, but I know she likes the book, partly because she never complains when I bring it out.  I also know she likes it because when the book was checked out of the library for two months (Blankety-blank book hogs! Probably another homeschooler) she took the unprecedented step of not only telling Dr. Yap about a school topic - a word-related one no less (not the engineer mom's area of expertise) - but she asked her to track it down for her.  And track it down she did: less than a week after Bean made this request, a discarded library copy out the out-of-print book, still wrapped in plastic, arrived from North Carolina.  Bean is a bit chagrined that anyone would do something as base as discard a library book, defacing it with DISCARD stamped inside the front cover. She keeps reminding me that it is not actually a library book in active circulation and warning me not to accidentally return it.

The other, even better reason I know the book is having an impact, even though she doesn't always do the writing for each section is that she writes poetry completely unbidden.  I find scraps of it around the house.  This poem, written in red marker, was composed on the top of the monkey bars at our park:

Marigolds are pretty in Spring.
Cherrys Blossoms flicker in summer's light.
Ice ickles gleam in winter's wing.
But you crumple crisp like fall's leaves.

There is nothing overwrought or self-absorbed about that.  With her permission, I entered it in our county fair. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Stretch of Grass, A Patch of Sand

Homeschoolers quickly get really good at sussing out all their local resources.  We find new ones and figure out how to make the most of old ones.  Libraries are an obvious place to start.  In this age of the ever-shrinking welfare state - which a homeschool friend from Norway says is non-existent in the first place- I fear the extinction of the local park almost as much as I worry about libraries.  We visit many local parks, but the one that's a block from our house will always be our family favorite.

There is no bathroom, but there any many suitable trees for the purpose and no one will bat an eye, as long as you dispose of number two the same way dog owners do.  One of the three families with kids who live directly across the street may even send you over to their house if they're in the park.  The playground itself can be hot during the middle of the day in the "summer" (also known as October), but there are many shade trees on the periphery, right near the patches of grass best suited for practicing cartwheels.  For those young and nimble enough, there are also the trees themselves, many of them perfect for climbing.  The trees that aren't meant for human athletic pursuits, sport fascinating lichen, ladybug communities, and a few squirrels - all available for inspection.

The playground itself is meant for the younger set, but older siblings quickly learn how to shimmy up the swing set poles, turn the infant swings into circus trapezes, send sand down the slides to put them in turbo mode and generally parkour the play structure.  There are plenty of sticks lying around to build castles and battlements in the sandbox and usually plenty of helping hands to build a highway system.  Off to the side, Bean is usually the chief baker of mud pies and finds plenty of berries, flowers, and leaves to turn into "paint" for sidewalk art.

It's not just the stuff that makes our park so special.  It's the people.  One of my favorite groups of moms was a loose-knit group of women with at least one kid each around Bean's age.  Things have petered off in the last few years, as we've had our last babies and older kids are more involved in school and other activities, but I used to count on several baby showers and birthday celebrations a year from this group.  One friend with kids a little younger than Bean didn't have a formal playgroup, but knew all the families who showed up at the park daily between 9:30 and 11:30 am.  She put off nursery school for a long time because they had the park.

We have always tended to be part of the late afternoon/early evening crowd.  Veggie Booty and strawberries were shared, dads and Dr. Yap came home and immediately met everyone else at the park.  Plans for big kid bedrooms, birthday parties, vacations, and school were shared and compared.  Because we are around the corner from a state university campus, visiting families imbue our park with a very international flavor.  Families from Greece, Italy, Colombia, Germany, Israel, China, Korea, Russia, and many other places congregate on the recycled rubber playground surface, speaking in halting English but sharing the common languages of parenthood and childhood.

Beyond the confines of the playground, out in the great open space of grass - the only lawn or "yard" most of us know in our crowded, overpriced slice of paradise - we witness many ephemeral wonders.  In the last three months I have seen soccer team  and sword fighting practices, flag football, frisbee, games of catch, remote controlled airplanes, a rather fanatic dog owner training his retriever for some kind of competition, a phalanx of two-year-olds chasing a soccer ball half their size, birthday parties, college fraternity/sorority mixers, sunbathers, gophers popping their heads out of holes, and a lone, majestic blue heron gracing us with its presence.

One magical summer morning, before the fog had lifted, the kids and I were about to whiz past in the car on the way to Somewhere Else when I stopped suddenly to witness several young men walking across temporary slacklines, as if they were gliding along in the air.  Four lines stretched like rays in a geometry textbook, from trees near the playground to the tennis courts on the other side of the meadow, some 500 yards away. Two men were expertly walking separate lines - each about four feet off the ground - while others silently watched on the ground, in the shadow of an oak tree.  We sat in our car, watching from outside the park, in awe, until one of the men jumped off his line, and we suddenly remembered we had Somewhere to be.

Right now, with a toddler and a homeschooler, I can't imagine not spending at least five hours a week at Our Park.  Someday though, I will no longer see the familiar strangers playing the never-ending pick up games on the basketball court and won't ride or scoot with Bean and Boo along the paths that skirt the canyon-side dog run.  One day, I won't find sand in my knitting and when I drive by the park I'll have no idea who's bike or stroller is parked at the playground.   Right now though, it's an inextricable part of my social life and my kids' childhoods.  I sometimes beg for a day off from the park, but I know I'll miss it when the time comes for my kids to move on to other feeding grounds for their young minds.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Milestones, not Millstones

It seems like my life as a parent has mini-seasons that have nothing to do with the weather.  May was about travel and June was about processing and starting our summer.  July has been all about milestones.

Has any modern parent not come to dread that word?  Somewhere between the second and third trimesters with Bean I realized I better not purchase What To Expect in the First Year or I would go nuts.  It didn't matter though because at every well child visit from about six months on, I sat in the waiting room of my pediatrician's office and filled out a milestone questionnaire, sometimes blithely checking off the expected Yes or No, and sometimes filling out qualifying mom-notes in the margins.  I wasn't sure if our first pediatrician even read the forms.

I remember when I filled out a form for Boo sometime in the first year and said No, he wasn't rolling over.  When I asked our current pediatrician if he was concerned about that, he said, "No, that's just one of those things we have to ask, but I always say that I'm only concerned if a kid sees a hill and doesn't immediately want to roll down it."  So Kid Doc admitted that milestones are relative, not meant to be a millstone on our parental necks.  At some point, some of the milestones become non-negotiable and something to sweat.  Or an accumulation of missed milestones hints or screams at trouble.  We are very fortunate that all of our kids' missed milestones have fallen well within the zone of relative normal.

Our health care provider has the well child forms online now, so (slightly) Type A parents like myself can worry ahead of time, er, I mean, be prepared.  If July had not become Milestone Month around here, I might not be able to check off Yes, is potty-trained, when Boo has his Three Year well child check up in October.  It would have meant nothing other than his moms hadn't gotten around to it yet and had become well-versed with this second kid in knowing which developmental stuff to sweat and which stuff we just don't want to deal with.  Months of wet pants and pee on the floors was pretty high on the second list.  I figured if we waited, I could sit down and have a nice little chat with Boo and let him know what the new, diaper-free program would be and maybe, in my wildest dreams, that would be that.

We've been introducing him to the idea since he was about 18 months, but as far as he was concerned, the underwear was for extra warmth on top of his diaper and the Elmo potty chair was a far better place to store toys than bodily excretions.  For a long time, I knew that if I pushed it, potty training would be a whole lot of work for me and a whole lot of stress for both of us.  Boo wasn't insisting, as Bean did at barely 2, that he would no longer wear diapers and we weren't planning to start nursery school anytime soon, so I just left it.  Sometime in the spring he started to seem more interested and aware, but we were about to start our travel season and knew he'd be having his tonsils out during the summer.  As soon as we had the mid-June surgery date set, I decided that June 30 would be the last day for diapers and July 1 would be the start of underwear.

I started an informal count down with Boo, letting him know in advance that he'd be saying goodbye to diapers in two weeks, a week, on Friday.  (Apparently, I forgot to send the same memo to Dr. Yap - oops.) When the day came, I followed my plan, had a nice chat with Boo, and proceeded to put on and change about 10 pairs of nice thick, soaking wet training underwear throughout the day.  We continued on for two weeks, with more wet underwear than success and had yet to reach the point that Boo trundled off to the bathroom of his own volition when he and Dr. Yap were looking at the Toys R Us circular from the Sunday paper.  A set of trains from a popular TV show (not Thomas, the other show about trains) was on sale, buy 2 get 1 free.  Instead of saying no, Dr. Yap said lets go take a look.  I gave her one of my raised-eyebrow what are you up to partner looks, which she pointedly ignored.  I followed my better instincts and ignored the parent-child interaction on the other side of the breakfast table right back.

That afternoon, Boo picked several multiples of three trains and Dr. Yap told him when he peed in the toilet instead of his pants, he could have one.  That's right, outright bribery of the kind we've been taught to avoid if we want a well-adjusted, unspoiled, productive adult on our hands in 15 or so years.  I made a rare showing of good judgement and for the second time that day, I said nothing about the negotiations between Dr. Yap and Boo.  What do you know, about 15 trains later, we have toilet training success.  If there is any behavioral fallout from this one, you'll have to talk to Dr. Yap.  I didn't know any of this was happening after all.

On the other end of our age spectrum, Bean has been working on her own milestone, in her own way.  Two months after her 8th birthday, she has mastered peddling and steering a bike with training wheels.  I remember penciling in a qualifying reason why she had missed this milestone when it showed up on the 5-year well child form: we hadn't really encouraged it because our driveway was a little steep and our road a little curvy.  Since Bean was two we'd tried introducing tricycles and small bikes with training wheels, all of which she outgrew without mastering either pedaling or steering.  She would show sudden bursts of interest, followed by a frustrating attempts to pedal and steer herself down a few feet of sidewalk in front of our house.  After a day or two, she would give up and move on.  We usually let it go, a little bewildered that she just didn't seem to be catching on.

Maybe there are specific developmental reasons why riding a bike has been difficult for Bean, or maybe her milestone is on a different timeline.  Whatever the reason, the three of us understood without discussion that she could happily get through childhood without this skill.  Then she decided she wanted a skateboard this spring.  After all, she reasoned, a skateboard is like a balance beam on wheels and she has pretty good balance.  We didn't say anything to her, but thought learning how to skateboard might be her gateway back to a bike.  She quickly decided that skateboarding was harder than it looked and set it aside to practice her long-abandonded scooter.

With very little practice and no provocation from us, Bean became a scootering pro, an "expert scooterist" as she put it.  She is using a three-wheeled scooter that sits low to the ground which means balance is no longer an issue.  It seems that not having to worry about balance or pedaling isolated the mechanics of steering and allowed her to master that piece of the equation.  After a few months of scootering back and forth to the park and around the basketball courts every day, she announced that she was ready to try a bike with training wheels.  A few weeks ago, we hunted down a 20 inch bike with no gears, a rear-wheel hand brake and training wheels.

In the beginning, pedaling was as frustrating as it had ever been for her, but it was clear that she had a handle on steering.  We walked beside her, putting a hand on the foot that needed to push down and helping her push the right way.  This helped, but she still struggled with figuring out how to get her feet started if we weren't using our hands.  Dr. Yap told her to push down whichever foot was up and that seemed to click.  After about 15 minutes of practicing she was able to steer and pedal herself to the park a few blocks away.  The next day, she repeated the feat, with only a few reminders about how to get her feet going properly.

Bike riding went so well, I'm ready to dust off the idea of swimming lessons for her again.  Then again, maybe she knows more than we do about her milestones and her internal timetable.  As for Boo, I'll take a questionable parenting tactic over pee-saturated clothes and floors any day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Phenomenally Unforgettable

The trouble with reading hundreds of picture books in a few months time is that no matter how charming the text or delightful the illustrations, unless it is on your child's constant rotation list it has to be phenomenally unforgettable for either good or bad reasons.  Otherwise, you will forget all about it's charms and delights and only remember, that it had both (or horrors, depending on the book).  This is all compounded by the fact that I am often sleep-deprived and actually do manage to cram non-children's literature into the crevices of my brain.  So this group of books from the New York Times Parents Guide to the Best Books for Children are our absolute favorites so far.  These are the finds that surprised us with their existence, charmed us in multiple readings, and delighted us with sequels.  Above all, they are phenomenally unforgettable.

The Holes in Your Nose
Written and Illustrated by Genichiro Yagyu
As soon as I had the faintest whiff of impending toilet training when Bean was a toddler, I went out and bought the companion volume to this book, Everyone Poops, which I knew from my younger days as an itinerant bookseller in various emporia.  I would only give that book minor credit for its role in the process of bodily function awareness, but I was so impressed with how simply and thoroughly the book dealt with defecation for a juvenile (and juvenile) audience that I bought (new!) as many of the other titles in this series of Japanese origin as I could get my hands on, including The Holes in Your Nose, The Gas We Pass, All About Scabs, and Contemplating Your Bellybutton.   Seriously, a set of these books would make as good a baby shower gift as the perennial Good Night Moon/Pat the Bunny combo.  (Indeed, I can think of some people who'd appreciate them more.)  Each book is about exactly what the title states, and a little bit more.  Everyone Poops is aimed directly at the toddler set, but the others can wait until preschool.  They can be introduced at opportune developmental moments: instead of reminding your child over and over not to pick their nose and eat the contents in public, read The Holes in Your Nose, with its description of booger ingredients, "Boogers are made from dirt, so they're dirty" and it's instructions to "look up and show the person reading this book the holes in your nose."  The Gas We Pass, may not actually deter public flatulence from a five-year-old (or their urge to use the word FART in as many ways possible), but at least they will know exactly what they are doing.  All About Scabs is equally good for scab-eaters and junior scientists/doctors.  Contemplating Your Bellybutton is great for a preschool start to the "where do we come from" discussion, as well as a good one to pull out if mom's pregnant.  A little bit of old-fashioned hygiene is also thrown in for good measure.

Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores
Written by James Howe
Illustrated by Amy Walrod
This is a grand girl -power book written for an intended audience of girls, boys, and mice.  Its message of inclusion comes across loud and clear (without feeling like you're being hit over the head with a soap box) to kids from about three up.  Older kids (6-9) will also enjoy the story and may want to go out and start their own club, complete with a clubhouse.

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain
Written and Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
If ever a book embodied the admonishment not to judge a book by its cover, it's this one.  The old-fashioned illustrations give away it's 1936 vintage, and the Little Tim of the title is an English boy of means, presumably living somewhere near Dover, with it's white cliffs and coastal orientation.  If I were a less open-minded parent and not singularly bent on reading as many of the books in the NYT Guide as possible, I might have skipped it with Bean and waited to read them to Boo when he was older.  We are all glad I didn't.  Everybody loved the first book so much that we checked them all out and read them in chronological order by publication date.  Little Tim is a short-suited boy of about ten who dreams of a life on the high seas, just like his friend the old sea captain.  Every book finds him either running away on a ship or begging his angelically tolerant parents to let him join a ship's crew for just a few days.  The voyages always turn into adventures of far greater magnitude than he had intended and many of them include his best friends, the orphans Ginger and Charlotte.  One of the books foreshadows his future life as a ship captain which made me think that Tim would surely be one of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers were he real, putting in his 10,000 hours aboard ships to become a talented admiral.  Fair warning: any empty box lying around the house while you are reading these will immediately be commissioned as the SS Cardboard and Marker Enterprise.

Minerva Louise
Written and Illustrated by Janet Morgan Stoeke
We are new, but ardent, fans of Minerva Louise the chicken with a small brain and huge amounts of imagination and gumption.  The illustrations are simple and tell the chicken with a heart's story perfectly. All ages will enjoy these books which are just plain good picture books.  No grand morals or adventures, no messages or achingly beautiful prose or pictures.  Just a chicken.  Get to know Minerva Louise and you won't be sorry.  And you will get to say "Minerva Louise" out loud a bunch of times.

Mysterious Thelonious
Written and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
In no way could this be considered a biography of Thelonious Monk, but using fewer than ten different words and graphical, abstract illustrations, Mysterious Thelonious does a better job of conveying the feeling of the jazz impresario's music than a biography ever could.  When I read the first page of this book, Bean scowled and asked me with great suspicion what this book was about.  I kept reading and by the last page, she was bopping around the living room saying "Mys-ter-i-ous The-lon-i-ous" in as many ways as she could think of: hissing, jumping, swooping, spinning, shouting.  Boo of course had no idea who Thelonious Monk was or why we were saying his name over and over again in syncopation, but that didn't stop him from joining in.
Homeschool Connection: For good measure, and because that's what good little homeschoolers do, I dug up as much Thelonious Monk as I could from the iPod archives after we finished the book.  We left it at that, but starting with this one, small picture book could easily lead to a greater exploration of Thelonious Monk or a whole unit of jazz music.

Vera's First Day of School
Written and Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry
The numerous Vera books are yet another series which we had never heard of before the NYT project, but which made repeat appearances in the library bag.  Whether she's going to school for the first time, learning to ride a bike, adjusting to a baby sister, or recovering from the measles, Vera does it earnestly and with all the aplomb that a youngest sister turned middle child can muster.  The Vera books are not of the flashy ilk that show up in bulk at Costco or become television series, they are far quieter and far better.

Where's Our Mama?
Written and Illustrated by Diane Goode
When I first read the description of this book, I thought it would be an anxiety-inducing tale of losing and finding one's parent.  Instead, it was a beautifully illustrated tale of mistaken identity, that made me wish I was lost in Belle Epoque Paris.  We loved it enough to check out Mama's Perfect Present, which is an equally beautiful tale of the innocent mischief caused when the same protagonists from Where's Our Mama? go looking for a present for said Maman.

Happy reading aloud!  And if you feel so inspired, please continue to share your experiences with these or other favorite books in the comments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What It Takes

If you are a homeschooler, even a new one, you already know what people are going to say when they find out you homeschool.  There will be something about the S Word of course.  They may ask why or how you do it if they are comfortable, and interested.  Most likely though - especially if they are parents of school-age kids - they will tell you all the reasons why they can't or won't homeschool.  There are few variations among these reasons: I don't have the patience is the most common.  I also hear "I couldn't spend all my time with my kids, I need a break" and "I couldn't be my kid's teacher and parent."

So here's the thing.  I don't have super-human patience (or even human levels of it unless I've had enough coffee and/or sleep).  I don't have a degree in education.  I don't love being around my kids more than the average parent.  Last night, at my monthly homeschool parents support group (read "my monthly lifeline to adult conversation with women to whom I'm not married") I saw many amazing moms.  Women who are homeschooling one, two, three kids; some by design and some by accident, or out of necessity, like myself.  I love these women and gain sustenance from those two hours.  But as I looked around the room, I didn't see any supermoms.

Well, I didn't see any parents who are more super than you, or more super than any other parent.  That's because any parent can do it, no matter the reasons for homeschooling or the financial or intellectual resources one brings to the table.  (I admit, single parent homeschooling could be tricky, but I know some who do it and know it's not impossible.) Any parent can do this because parenting and homeschooling are the same thing.

You need the same amounts of patience, fortitude, and love to homeschool your child that you need to parent that particular child.  Your child doesn't suddenly need different amounts of your energy, time, attention or intellectual capacity because you are now teaching them grammar and multiplication instead of potty training and brushing their teeth.

Think of all the things you taught your child before they went off to school and think of all the things you teach them on a daily basis that are not strictly academic: how to set the table, behave in public, count change, ride a bike, negotiate sibling rivalries.  Sure, you are not going to be an expert on every subject - outsourcing is perfectly acceptable.  You have probably already outsourced swimming and music lessons.  I tried to outsource Bean's potty training to a Montessori school, and that didn't go so well but we got through it.

And that's what you do: you get through it.  Every day, since the day your child was born, you've had to make a million decisions, negotiate a minefield of tricky situations, and figure out how this little human creature who came without any instructions -not even a DNA map printed on their forehead for gosh sakes- works.  And you have.  Sometimes better than others.  You have listened to the good advice of your friends, ignored the good advice from your mother and mother-in-law (and later went back and did that too).  You've tried dubious suggestions from websites and had dubious results, you've tried to keep up with the playground moms and then didn't bother.  You keep trying and figure it out every day some days better than others.

That's homeschooling.  I started homeschooling Bean with a million expectations of her and of myself.  Many of these we've discarded and refined.  Before we even started homeschooling, I was dissatisfied with the curriculum I saw being taught both in private and public schools.  I thought surely there must be something stronger and more rigorous out there.  There is, but that doesn't mean I could tell Bean to read ten pages and answer three essay questions.  If she was the kind of kid who could sit down and do the work put in front of her with no questions asked, then my blog would probably be about something other than homeschooling because I wouldn't be doing it.  The early days of homeschooling were frustrating when I saw myself as more of a teacher than a parent.  I had to work through my expectations, set them aside, and do what worked for Bean.  It's still a work in progress.  Just as she is, and just as I am as a parent.

I lose my patience some days, spend weeks taking the wrong track with something, and sometimes get it right on the first try.  In the beginning, I used a lot of workbooks from Costco because that's what I had.  As we kept going, and I figured out what worked for each of us, I abandoned those workbooks and began developing a curriculum.  But when we start our school day at 9am, I am not suddenly Ms. Teacher, I am still Mom.  Bean is not suddenly an easy going student ready to learn every subject I throw at her without question.  I use them same strategies to get her to learn anything she's not one hundred percent interested in that I would use to get her to clean her room.

Just as with any other aspect of parenting, from the time Bean and Boo were each born, I just show up each day (second or third cup of coffee in hand) and begin where we are.  That's all it takes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Evolution of a Diagnosis

June 1 was D Day around here.  Or perhaps I should say Dx Day.  If I had written this post on any of the last 30 days, it would be completely different, and probably have any one of 30 different titles.  If I stop now and come back to it tomorrow, this post - it's text, and the feelings it conveys, the picture of life it paints - will be different.

The diagnosis itself was a bit anti-climatic.  For the most part, there were no surprises, only confirmation of what we already suspected.  The pediatric neurologist confirmed what may turn out to be the most innocuous aspects of Bean's uniqueness: Tic Disorder which will in all likelihood become Tourette's Syndrome.  This is what we brought in with us when Bean and I walked into the exam room.  We left with that plus additional, generalized labels: OCD, ADD, and Anxiety Disorder, with a likely side dish of mild Autism Spectrum Disorder - and - surprise! another referral, this time to a child psychiatrist (or if we preferred, a developmental pediatrician) who could further parse the diagnosis and give specific recommendations.  The neurological diagnosis had the same effect of trying to get a comment from a high-powered PR firm about a celebrity scandal (in the most blustering, yet Groucho Marxish tones your imagination can muster): "We can neither confirm nor deny the presence of OCD, ADD, Anxiety, and Asperger's in this child, but that area of the brain is certainly lit up like a Christmas tree."  

Neither Dr. Yap or I have any interest in figuring out why Bean is the lucky recipient of the alphabet soup diagnosis.  We are pro-vaccine and have no interest in that particular discussion.  Her difficult birth could certainly be a culprit.  Brain Doc was quick to pin the blame on genetics and tried to do me a favor by fingering the anonymous donor, but it didn't take much to figure out that there's plenty of questionable fruit falling close to my side of the family tree: anxiety, OCD, social maladjustment, insomnia - all the major food groups of basal ganglia dysfunction are well represented by me and any branch surrounding me.  That's why it was easy for Dr. Yap and I to brush off Bean's sleep issues and why her many compulsions bothered Dr. Yap more - they looked familiar to me.  On the other hand, Bean's intransigence and difficulty with change also looked familiar (ahem, Oma) and Dr. Yap handles Bean's lack of adaptability with more ease than I do because she didn't grow up with it.  It really comes as no surprise that one region of the brain is responsible for all these related attributes. 

We had already followed earlier advice from Kid Doc to make an appointment with a local neuropsychologist for complete testing.  That will happen later this month.  Dr. Yap and I feel like we can't really do much with the information we already have until we get the results of the assessment.  It's like we've been given the ingredients, but don't have the recipe yet - or some other better metaphor for playing without a full deck.  

Or maybe it's more like getting a diagnosis in slow motion, a little bit at a time.  I began this week with a pre-assessment meeting with the neuropsychologist, delivering the already thick packet of checklists and vital info about Bean that she sent us to fill out several weeks ago.  Based on our meeting, and the Bean we portrayed on paper, the Neuropsych already has an idea which way the the diagnosis  will go.  She can't say that of course, but I can tell by her questions and comments what she's thinking: "Did she look at you or the object when she asked for something as a toddler?...I'd be surprised if you told me her handwriting wasn't atrocious...You will probably find the ADHD symptoms will fall away...You will need to start tracking all behaviors and responses to situations as they come and go - five years later you will be seeing them again...Other people will be involved as we go forward - they will know things you don't and you don't want to be the ones to implement everything...If you have twenty kids in a room with the same diagnosis, they will behave twenty different ways..." These are the pieces of conversational lint that stuck, what I am left with several days later. 

So we go forward, knowing more but not nearly enough.  I suppose that could make it all easier to digest (again with the food/eating metaphors), but it's also maddening.  There are days that Dr. Yap and I spend the day identifying everything little behavior that goes with what we've always known, but now has a name (or names).  Other days, we just think it's best to forget the whole thing and carry on like always.   And then there are the days when we wish we already had the better toolkit we hope to receive (or at least be pointed toward) at the end of all the testing.  Or the "bad" days when we're glad we already have something we can tell the staff at the school where Bean is attending summer workshops.  Some days others say "We thought she was just really bright" or "She seems to handle things so much better than other kids with similar issues."  And we agree.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Slew of Classics and a Handful of New Discoveries

So, I have this little problem with acquiring children's books:

Aside from the obvious space issues (this is one wall in the playroom/office) I really don't feel guilty about this because I bought the vast majority of them used (and back to the used book recycling system they will go when we are done).  One of my favorite sources for used books is the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library Children's Book Sale (not to be confused with their general used book sale, whose children's book selection pales in comparison.)  Most years, early on some Saturday morning in January, I am on the library steps with two or three totebags waiting for the doors to open.  At a dollar a pound, the book sale is like an all you can eat buffet for bibliophiles.  My book acquisition priorities have changed over the years, but my strategy is always to go the sections in order of my greatest desire, grabbing first, weeding later.  In the early years, this meant going straight for the picture book section in the back of the room and grabbing any softcover book that was a medal winner, by an author or illustrator I loved, or that just plain looked interesting.  Baboon falls into the last category and it leads off the latest round of picture books from the The New York Times Book Project

Written by Kate Banks and Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
This is my favorite kind of kid's book: it's simple text and illustrations manage to convey deeper meaning that even young children can understand.  A baby baboon's mother introduces him to the ways of the world while on a walk in the savannah.  The tale appeals to all ages (toddler, big kid, and mom) and can be used to introduce toddlers to a range of African animals in their native habitats. For older kids it makes a great jumping off point for philosophical discussions about our place in the world and our relationships to the people and things around us.

Written and Illustrated by Martha Alexander
Since I didn't read this, here is Bean's review: This is a cute book for older siblings to read to their younger siblings.  A little boy tries to play with the older boys but when they don't let him, he makes a bear on a blackboard and the bear only let's the boy play with him, ride him or feed him.  The moral of the story is that if you don't let someone play with you or your toys, they won't let you play with them or their toys.

Blueberries For Sal
Written and Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
About ten years ago, I convinced Dr. Yap to take a detour on our way home from Southern California and stop in Solvang, a cheesy faux-Danish town, that's only a little less cheesy and a little less faux than Helen, Georgia.  Besides the bakery, the only place of interest was a bookstore where I picked up Blueberries for Sal and another childhood favorite.  I knew I'd be reading them to someone at some point in the future.  If you've already read this a hundred times, look for another McCloskey classic, One Morning in Maine.  It's not exactly a sequel, but Sal appears as a big sister about to lose her first tooth.
Homeschool Connection: You could google Blueberries for Sal lesson plans and get at least a dozen suggestions for early elementary students, or you could spend the same amount of time thinking about Maine, black bears, and blueberries and come up with a week's worth of activities on your own.

Written and Illustrated by Henrik Drescher
This tale of a boy who eats doesn't his dinner so instead eats around it and ends up eating everything including his best friend, his parents, and the earth just didn't appeal to Bean and I.  The illustrations didn't redeem the unpleasant text and we were glad we read it at the library and didn't have to bother putting it in the bag.

Written by Verna Aardema and Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
We've had this book in our home library for years, so I'll let Bean do the reviewing honors again: It's a great book for Africa-lovers like me and it's very catchy.
Homeschool Connection: This a great literature companion for a unit on Africa.

Written by Bill Martin, Jr. and Illustrated by Eric Carle
Another Bean review: This is great for learning your colors, the words are fun to say, and because the illustrations are by Eric Carle, they are really beautiful.  Boo also likes it.

Written and Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina
If you typically tell your child the name of an author before you read a book, this one is a lot of fun and demands as a grandiose an Eastern European accent at you can muster.  The story itself - of a peddler, his caps, and some mischievous monkeys - is great fun for kids to act out.  If you've already read this a hundred times, check out  Circus Caps for Sale.

Written by Ruth Krauss and Illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Bean says this book is for kids with big dreams and teaches that something big can come from something small.  I would also add The Carrot Seed preaches the importance of believing in oneself and one's work, despite what anyone else says.  Crockett Johnson's drawing style is a perfect match for the spare text.

Written by Ann Hassett and Illustrated by John Hassett
The fun illustrations in this tale of Mrs. Quimby, multiplying cats, and a local community unwilling to help until there is a mouse problem feature many things to count - especially cats.

Written by Bill Martin, Jr. and Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
This fun alphabet book is really aimed at Boo's age group, but Bean and I like to experiment with the rhythm of the words: singing them like a reggae song, speaking them in syncopation, adding movements to the story.

Written by Judith Barrett and Illustrated by Ron Barrett
If you have only ever seen the movie, you must immediately acquire a copy of the book and expunge the memory of the movie from your children's minds.  Pickles to Pittsburgh isn't quite as good as its progenitor, but get that one too.  I always like to read Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord with these books and I think it's a travesty that it wasn't included in the Guide.

Written and Illustrated by Don Freeman
Really, who doesn't love this charming tale of a teddy bear with one missing button on a mission to find both himself and a home?  Well, Bean doesn't.  She thinks it's one of the weirdest books she's ever read- or had read to her - and thinks his eyes are creepy to boot.  To her, Corduroy is the literary equivalent of a clown.  It's the only childhood favorite of mine that was a total strikeout with her.  Boo and I remain fans of the teddy bear in green overalls.

Written and Illustrated by H.A. Rey
Um, Bean also hates Curious George.  She was always (I think appropriately) horrified that he was stolen from his jungle home and appropriated by a man with no name, a man known only by his ubiquitous accessory.  Okay, fair enough, these things always bothered me a bit too, but even though I wouldn't count the monkey or his "friend" as favorites, I always liked his adventures to the hospital and the moon.  And Boo?  Curious George is his absolute favorite.  

Written by Bill T. Jones and Susan Kuklin and Illustrated by Susan Kuklin
Dance is one of the rare children's books illustrated entirely with photographs.  That alone makes it worthy of inclusion in the Best Books for Children.  Though short on words, both it's text and pictures easily convey the poetry and rhythm of dance.  Even kids who don't love dance as much as Bean will like this one.  

Written by Trinka Hakes Noble and Illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Bean and Boo loved this farcical tale of Jimmy's wayward pet boa constrictor so much that they immediately demanded we check out every silly sequel.  Steven Kellogg is a prolific children's book illustrator and author and you will probably recognize his fun, colorful drawings.  As with the best picture books, the illustrations in Jimmy's Boa support and extend the story of the day Jimmy took his boa on a field trip or the day he went to school, or the day he showed up - surprise!- at a birthday party.  

Written by Barbara Emberley and Illustrated by Ed Emberley
We've been fans of Ed Emberley's drawing instruction books for a while now, but never new that he also illustrated children's books.  This odd little gem fits my description of a perfect children's book: it's short, but both the graphic illustrations and the text pack a punch; it's a bit weird, and it's the kind of book that both an eight-year-old and a two-year-old want to pick up again and again on their own, going through each page.  Without reading the two-year-old knows exactly what is happening.  Despite the fact that all the action centers around a Revolutionary War cannon, Drummer Hoff and his compatriots are more unabashedly, amusingly, bungling than war-mongering. (And the illustrations are so late 60's - a hit, with my just-turned 40, nostalgic self).

Written and Illustrated by Gabrielle Vincent
Once again, Bean and Boo were split evenly along lines of age and personality when it came to these books about a former circus Bear raising a mouseling.  I agree with Bean that the storylines are a little thin and the ambiguous relationship between the adult bear Ernest and the childlike Celestine seems a bit, dare-I-say-it-I-know-this-is-a-children's-book, contrived.  I also agree with Boo, who thinks the illustrations are pretty and stories sweet.