Monday, July 09, 2012

Baby Steps in Writing

For many years, I have tried various writing programs until finally reaching the same conclusion as Charlotte Mason. Oral narration is the foundation of written narration. You will know when the child is ready to make the transition. Pamela is not quite ready, so I have backed off from encouraging written narrations. She did two things today that gave me hope for seeing them down the road. First, in our reading from a book about space, Pamela pointed to the word supernovae and announced, "It's a mistake!" I wasn't quite sure what she meant so I pressed for clarity. She added, "It's s, not e!" Suddenly, I realized that Pamela expected the plural of the word supernova to be supernovas. She wanted to share that mistake with me as a mutual joke. However, I turned it into a short grammar lesson explaining that, in Latin, plurals do not end in the letter s. They end in vowels like e. Second, she decided to do a combination of oral and written narration of her books today. While you might struggle to understand what she communicates in between doodles, these two pictures illustrate what we studied this morning.

Oh, if you look carefully, you see clear evidence of her firm understanding of personal pronouns which becomes more refined as Pamela's sense of self continues to emerge.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

What Do You Want to Make Today?

It's not an easy question to answer, if we are used to doing what we are expected to do to graduate or to pass this portion of the class. We live in a pragmatic, utilitarian world in which our "bottom line" questions usually deal with questions of usefulness or profitablity; often these decisions are made in a Darwinian competition of who can win out the battle to be the most powerful, to take what you can out of life. In the scarcity mindset of such a dehumanized system, we usually ask "what can I take from you today?" What do I take from others, or to do as little as I can to get the maximum results, and we do not ask "What do you want to make today?" Deep questions of life are the same whether you are at a starting point or at an ending point. Would you make today a future that is worth beholding? Will you choose to dedicate your days to creating a world that is worth passing onto your children?

~ Makoto Fujimura
The artist Makoto Fujimura was the keynote speaker at this year's ChildLightUSA Conference. My dear friend Bonnie Buckingham instigated this after she read Refractions, a collections of essays originally written for Makoto's blog. A series of events led Bonnie to New York City to attend an arts conference and to see the Four Holy Gospels paintings on display at the Museum of Biblical Art. I didn't really understand why she saw connections between his thinking and Mason's until Bonnie gave me a copy of his book to thank me for speaking on mathematics and special needs for homeschoolers in the Charlotte area. I'm only half of the way through the essays, and his ideas dovetail very well with Mason.

My favorite essay is based on a blog post called Bert's Disappearing Weather Maps. Back in 1983,  Mako worked with special needs students who didn't fit inside the box of special needs programs. He saw extraordinary gifts in a young man named Bert who drew weather maps aired on the previous night's news broadcast on the blackboard with his spit. This perseverance disgusted and annoyed most adults, but not Mako. Treating Bert as a person with unique gifts, he invited unusual artist to make a mural of a weather map on the bulletin board with markers. “No one’s ever asked me to draw a weather map before in school; they just complained about it” was the enthusiastic response. Through their relationship of mutual respect, Mako convinced Bert that drawing with tap water was healthier because eating chalk every day might not be good for his health. He concludes with the same ideas I have about Pamela and her job prospects in this dead-end economy: "I also knew that the society that would make Bert 'useful' by giving him menial jobs after his graduation would not be as kind."

So, what do you want to make today?

Lately, I have been on a needlework binge. My basket of leftover yarn sits there blinking at me, waiting to be transformed into something other than a ball of yarn. I always have my eye on making gifts for Steve, who is working Kansas, away from our cozy home. To keep him from feeling lonely, Pamela and I have been making things for him that surround him with beauty and love. Everyone of Pamela's  watercolors that we have framed so far adorn the walls of his apartment. Last December, I finally finished my magnum opus (five years in the making, I think) to keep him warm on chilly winter days. I crocheted half a dozen coasters with the scrap yarn and still had scrap of the scrap yarn.

Then, I saw a pattern for making reusable Swiffer cloths. Why not make something beautiful that saves me a chunk of change? A small piece of something in Kansas is here in Carolina, and, whenever I do one of my least favorite things (housework), the colors will remind me of Steve.

A homeschooling friend sent Pamela and me handmade bracelets that her daughter knitted. So, I returned the favor and fingerknitted a pair of scarves.

What do you want to make today?

Then, a Facebook friend, who's also a skin friend, tagged me on picture of a knitted coffee cozy. What a perfect gift for Steve, who I think was weaned on coffee! Only it needs to be crocheted (my better medium when it comes to needlework) that will take advantage of colors in my scrap yarn. Ooooo, I really like that one! Only, it needs to have a steaming cup of Joe instead of a tea bag as an embellishment and a built in coaster. And, the potholder I had been crocheting for him disappeared to the backburner....

What do you want to make today? 

Pamela is learning to knit, and she has all but one little step of the garter stitch down (blog post to follow on teaching her to knit as well as making her own wooden needles). She picked out hot pink for a baby blanket for her four "babies".

Pamela loves to doodle, especially on church friendship pads. Something about them sets her creative juices in motion. Every Sunday, she fills them with doodles. Some might assume she isn't paying attention but do not let that fool you. Today, we were visiting a different church to hear my friend's husband preach. While we recited the Lord's Prayer, Pamela doodled. As soon as we finished, she looked at me pointedly and said, "Which!" She noticed that our church says "which are in heaven" while this church choses the more familiar "who."

Since I haven't posted any of Pamela's watercolors in awhile, I thought you might like to know that she is still going strong in making beautiful things.

Pamela's Latest Watercolors

Friday, July 06, 2012

A Rare Review

I hardly ever review a product. A Charlotte Mason paradigm eliminates the need for tons of formal curricula. We cut out the middleman by focusing on living books (not abridged versions or snippets in a literature anthology); on whole, specific composition by a composer (not the best of); on grade-level poems of four persons a year (not a mish-mash of mediocre works to fit a theme or literature selection). People probably get tired of my oddball responses to questions about a Bible study curriculum for children: we read the Bible, study maps, historical artifacts, etc. and talk about what we learned. When asked about language arts programs, I give an outline of Mason's building blocks for language acquisition. Not exactly what most people want to hear. Since prepackaged curriculum are off my radar, reviews are rare on this blog.

Steve knows me well and bought two perfect gifts for me this year: a Nook tablet and Wii Fit Training Plus. Pamela and I have been using the fitness games for almost four months now: she is on her 109th day, and I'm on my 113th. At first, I required her to do 30 minutes of every homeschool day, reminding her. She enjoys the program so much she faithfully exercises every morning for at least a half hour of her own free will. She even exercises on weekends. I have not paid any attention to her workout charts until deciding to do this review. She has exercised every single day for the past 24 days (as far as the activity log goes). She has averaged 37 minutes a day, burning about 113 calories per day. Her MET (metabolic equivalent) is 3 because she is burning 93 calories per half hour. That means her intensity level qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise.

Pamela has been averaging 256 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, all of her own free will. Here is a chart of her recent workout:

Comparing her activity to a chart of Sports and Leisure, Pamela is doing the equivalent of playing casual volleyball:

To put it into perspective, without any parental nagging, Pamela far exceeds the CDC guidelines for people her age (150 minutes a week). Every day, she works all major muscle groups because she selects non-game exercises (yoga and strength training).

I call that a win!

Other benefits include a change in Pamela's choice of beverages. She has taken Wii Fit's advice seriously, and now, when we hit McDonald's drive-thru for my McCoffee fix, she orders bottled water instead of soda. She has picked a bunch of new health-related vocabulary words like deep breathing, warm-up, yoga, strength training, obstacle course, aerobic training, boxing, Kung Fu, balance, advanced, etc. Not only did it develop a new interest (fireworks), Pamela has conversations with me about exercise: "You skipped boxing today," "I skipped the obstacle course today," "I got a little further," "Yippee! My personal best!" "Two humans did Perfect 10"—and Pamela is a supercalculator in that game.

I have benefited from the program as well. Every week, I aim for four to five one-hour workouts that burn at least 310 calories per session (my MET of 155 per half hour is equivalent to dancing with a partner). My muscle control, balance, and strength has improved greatly: my Wii Fit age scores are consistently below my chronological age, which wasn't the case during my first month. A typical session for me begins with twenty-five minutes of either yoga or strength training, followed by twenty minutes of aerobics and fifteen minutes of play. Moreover, the center of balance (COB) assessment helped me solve the problem of aching heels when I'm on my feet a lot. Feedback from Wii Fit trained me to move my COB forward and my heels rarely bother me now.

Conveniences include:
  • I can workout at any time, regardless of weather or daylight changes. Pamela prefers early in the morning (7 a.m.) while I prefer evenings (9:00 p.m.—weird, but it works for me). We can work out according to our unique body clock.
  • I don't have to waste gas money (21 miles to the nearest YMCA or 1 mile to our town's only fitness center).
  • I can exercise on my schedule not the limited hours of the local fitness center: M-F 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., S 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon, closed Sunday.
  • I am not bored out of my mind: I do not enjoy exercise of any form, except for swimming. I find the games entertaining. Being smacked in the head by imaginary sneakers or having a clay pot crash on my head are more amusing than some pretty, perky person encouraging me to feel the burn.
  • I don't have to pay monthly fees or skip workouts when we are visiting Steve in Kansas. Our exercise equipment is quite portable.

Does Wii Fit help people who are already in good physical condition? It depends. Steve is in great shape: he runs and bicycles regularly in a hilly Kansas city along the banks of the Missouri River. In his youth, he lived at the tennis court (in fact, his father still plays tennis—he's in his eighties!). Steve can run a 10K without any special training. A couple of years ago, he even ran a few marathons and many half-marathons.

Unfortunately, he neglected core muscle groups not used in running and rarely stretched or worked on flexibility. On the day before Thanksgiving of 2011, he pulled a muscle in his back. Pain shot up his back, and his spasms were so severe he made an appointment with a chiropractor that day. Steve had never seen a chiropractor in his life. While manipulating Steve's back, the man exclaimed regularly, "Dude, you are so stiff!" And, he was right!

Steve spent about six weeks in treatment. The chiropractor recommended Steve spend more time cross-training to work his core muscles, so he and some buddies made a pact to take Zumba classes ("whatever happens in Zumba stays in Zumba"). He found the classes helpful but inconvenient, so the Wii Fit has filled that void. When he first tried the Hula Hoop game back in April, he failed within a few seconds. Now, he can last for five minutes in each direction for a total of ten minutes. His back feels great, and we are both relieved that he found natural treatments to address his injury, avoiding addictive pain medication and surgery.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Another Milestone

As you can imagine, fireworks and people with hypersensitive hearing don't always get along. Since David usually takes off with a bunch of friends, we haven't bought fireworks in years. While she enjoys the big show in the sky, viewed from afar, Pamela has never shown an interest in the tame stuff peddled at the fireworks shacks that pop up all over town this time of year.

Until now....

It all started with Wii Fit Training Plus (review here). Just as the movie Toy Story 2 taught her the joy of elevators (overcoming a decade-long phobia), the balance game Tilt City has sparked an interest in fireworks. For the past two weeks, Pamela has talked about shooting off some sparkly stuff when Steve came home to visit us for the Fourth of July festivities. I thought he would pick up something tame like sparklers, but he's an engineer. He bought a family package of all sorts of arsenal, including Roman candles, cakes (not the chocolate cake Pamela insisted I bake), snaps, poppers, something called "mad dog" (a gazillion firecrackers lined up in a belt of earsplitting noise), etc.

You know, of course, which one Steve went for first: the "mad dog".... He made a crack comment about giving it to our mad dog (the beast), and she exclaimed, "You're joking!!!"

Safely perched on the back porch, Pamela watched Steve launch one bomb after another. She kept a running commentary going in between squeals, giggles, and a few Nazgul-like shrieks.

"Dont' burn down the house!"

"Don't burn your hand. Reminds me of Johnny Tremain."

"THOMAS SUMTER! REBECCA MOTT!" (two revolutionary war heroes from South Carolina that we studed last year: The Fighting Gamecock and  The Courageous Patriot)

"Just like Little House!"

Laura Ingalls Wilder's mention of fireworks had slipped my mind, but sure enough, right on pages 249 and 250 lies a description of an Independence Day celebration Laura spent with Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years:
At supper Almanzo proposed that Carrie go with him and Laura to see the fireworks in town.... They kept the horses well outside the crowd, so that no one would be trampled or run over. In an open space at a safe distance they sat in the buggy and waited until a streak of fire rose in the darkness above the crowd and exploded as a star.... After each explosion of beauty against the darkness, Almanzo drove the circle, always bringing Barnum and Skip around in time to face the next rush and blossom of fire. Not until the last shower of sparks had faded did Almanzo and Laura drive away
Pamela watched every move Steve made and stuck around until every last explosive had been fired off. She even joined Steve in the noise making. She prepped a small balloon and stomped on it (a fear she conquered three years ago). She blew up another ballon, threw some pop pop snappers at it, but never got close enough to pop the balloon. She laughed, "I failed!" She ended up stomping on another balloon.

After the fun ended, Pamela looked at the debris on the brick walkway and announced, "Clean up tomorrow!" I encouraged her to thank her father for buying the fireworks and she walked down the driveway to the front yard, where Steve was turning off the sprinkler. She told him, "Happy Fourth of July!"

When she returned, she told me of her plans to do fireworks in 2013.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17