Thursday, June 30, 2005

"I"m too old for coloring pages."

Brighteyes (5 years old) found me looking at a site of downloadable coloring pages and announced that she was too old for coloring, it bored her, she just wanted puzzles in the future.

"Okay, what if I showed you a coloring page that's also a puzzle? That doesn't have any one right answer and that you can do over and over again completely differently every time?"

She looked skeptical. I downloaded us all mandalas to color.

That was over two days ago. Since then, we have done little else from waking up to bedtime but color mandalas. There has been much giggling and squealing and "oooh pretty!" The limits of a 64-color crayon box have been exceeded in a single picture. The pros and cons of crayons vs. fine-tip markers vs. color pencils have been tested and discussed. Gigantic stalks and leaves have been drawn for the flower mandalas and skies have been added for the sun and star mandalas. Mommy has explored how few colors can be used on certain patterns while everyone else explores how many colors can be used. Violent protest have arose at bedtime that, "I'm not too tired to start another one!"

In short, major-league fun has been had by all.

Normally I like schedules, but sometimes you just got to go with the flow. They're learning loads of things about both fine-motor control and art, and having fun doing it.

Here's some sites that have free mandala and geometric coloring pages. Not all of them are doable by very young children but some of them are: (Check out their geometric pages and the butterfly mandala on the butterfly page. The butterfly is way too complicated for most adults, but nice eye candy.) (the site is in French, but click on any mandala to find dozens of free coloring samples)

Flashback: June 3, 2001

I was up early this morning and heard birds outside my window. I looked up and saw a flight of wild ducks go by. They looked so pretty in the dawn light. After they passed I turned back to my task and heard a volley of rifle fire. I realized some of the creatures I had just been admiring were probably dead. I wish I could think of something profound to say, but I can't.

It's nowhere near hunting season. I want to hope it's some of my poorer neighbors who might have an excuse, but I'm having trouble with that thought.

Summer Reading Program: More Expensive, Less Productive

Our library doesn't have a regular Children's Day. They only read books to children during the Summer Reading Program. We just finished this year's program. It only lasted four weeks. This is the third year in a row that our daughters have participated, and the quality is definately going downhill.

Two years ago the program had two months of weekly meetings where they read children books or had local educators deliver short lectures; the most memorable lecturer was the man from Wildlife and Fisheries who brought along a newborn alligator for "Show & Tell". The only cost incurred was for some candy, which I felt they could have done without.

Last year they read stories and had a local youth group act our skits to go along with the stories. The program was supposed to last two months but got cut short after the first month because someone had made the mistake of hiring the Bad Magician to perform and that used up all the money.

This year the program was only one month long, and consisted of one performance by the Bad Magician and three circus-themed performances by local youth groups. The first meeting had the youths doing bad clown imitations. They didn't take into account that young children are terrified of clowns. Our four year-old screamed for 12 hours after that show!

But this year no librarian read any books to them. The only person who read them a book the entire Summer Reading Program was one of the young "clowns", who wisely elected to read to the children instead of embarrassing herself by doing a poor clown act. At the same time there were complaints about how much this year's program cost.

Excuse me, but they're supposed to be reading books to children. How much does it cost to have a librarian sit in a chair and read children's books for an hour? You have to pay what, an extra hour's wages to another librarian to man the desk during that time? Instead they're blowing increasing amounts of money on "entertainment" and spending less time encouraging reading. Our kids get "entertained" enough. They need to be encouraged to read.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

That's My Man

We live in a small Southern town. The local swimming pool was closed down over 30 years ago due to integration and hasn't been maintained since then. Our new mayor decided to fix it up so children would have a safe place to play, and announced the pool would open on the Fourth of July. He talked the city into spending $19,000 to repair the pool and the surrounding fence. It's a pity he forgot about the outbuildings.

Last week my husband went looking for the town's severely underpaid one-person Parks Department. We had asked him to do some work for us in his off time and wondered why we hadn't seen him in a while. My husband found him at the pool's outbuildings, where 30 years of neglect and exposure to chlorine salts had eroded fist-sized chunks out of the walls. The Parks Director was trying to prep the walls for painting all by himself with a paint scraper, a wire brush, and a Fourth of July deadline. My husband pointed out that a wire brush couldn't get out the chlorine salts embedded in the concrete walls. Only a sandblasting and a power wash would do that. Painting over the walls before they were sandblasted would leave the salts free to erode the walls underneath the paint; but there was no time, no equipment, and no money left for sandblasting.

The next morning my husband loaded our sandblaster, some sand, a box of face masks, and our hand drill motor in the car and told me he'd be gone for "about an hour". He stopped at the local hardware store and bought an overpriced steel wire brush head, then drove on to the pool. All morning he worked on those walls with that steel power brush and the Parks Director sandblasted them right behind him. They finished about noon. By then word had spread that "Doc" was up to something at the town pool and some of his high school students dropped by. They were put to work cleaning up the debris.

My husband came home tired and minus a bag of sand, but the town pool will be ready for the Fourth of July.

That's my man. I'm so proud of him!

Now if only the mayor can get the city council to pay for a lifeguard.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mississippi Mud

My daughters have a book on _Crafts from Nature_. It's written for 9-12 year olds and is way too old for them, but I found it on sale and thought I would tuck it back until they were older. Wrong. It's been a hit since the first day the 5yo saw it.

Last week she was pouring over instructions on how to find and make your own clay. Her Daddy said, "The backyard is nothing but clay, and I just dug a ditch!" (Unfortunately for our plants, the native "soil" really is 95% clay.) Daddy and the girls spent the next two days making and cleaning slip which is currently settling under the blacksmith's forge so the 4yo won't knock it over again. The girls are impatiently awaiting the chance to make and fire their own pinch pots. It seems that they've discovered that wonderful worlds lie inside instruction books. I'm thrilled. My husband thinks I should be very, very afraid.

Wed Feb 23, 2005: Hard Day

I've been unofficially blogging my e-lists for years, before I finally decided to spare them the burden. Is there a way to change the font or color of the text inside a post? That would help with flashbacks. Anyway, here's a post from a few months ago:

Yesterday I was doing lessons with the 5yo. At her request we were working in the girls' bedroom. We started off with math and had a fill in the blank question, "2,4,6,8,__,12"

She said, "I don't understand. What's the answer?"

"Let me show you." I look around for the abacus, which was still in the room where we usually do lessons, then counted off on my fingers. "Two, four, six, eight, what am I doing each time? I'm adding--"

"No! Tell me the answer! Don't show me, tell me!"

I hold up 10 fingers. "It's this many."

"No it's not! Tell me the answer!"

Okay, I figure, she's not ready for this. "Do you want to put this aside and work on it later?"

"No! Tell me the answer right now!"

Just then I'm saved by the mail carrier blowing his horn to let me know I've gotten in a package of used children's books off ebay. I bring in the box while Bright-eyes follows, still fussing and demanding the answer. "Let's go do it on the abacus." She follows, still carrying on. I don't know what else to do so I start to work the problem out on separate lines of the abacus while she fusses behind me. In the midst of my counting and her temper tantrum I hear her say "'s ten...!"

"Yes! Ten is the right answer! Good for you, yeah!"

"No it's not!"

We need to break this scene. "Yes, go write it down while I let the lady know the books arrived." I go to the computer with her still fussing behind me. But when I get back a few minutes later she's through fussing and we go on to another topic. She doesn't throw another tantrum during lessons.

I don't know if I handled it well. I told the Pro when he got in as we were having tea-time. When I got to Bright-eyes figuring out the right answer she said proudly, "I went and wrote it down." I hadn't known that, and instead of being fussy she's now proud.

Dh was silent for a moment, then said, "I want you to pay careful attention to what happened. This is a major problem with the school system. There's two different mental processes going on here at the same time. The first was her frustration over not knowing the right answer giving way to anger at you for not giving her what she wanted. At the same time another part of her brain was quietly working out the
right answer. You didn't give in to her fussing, the way they do too often in the school system. You waited and observed her working out the right answer, then rewarded her for that."

Bright-eyes smiled proudly because she got the answer right.

Dh told her, "Yes, Mommy knew the answer. But the important thing is for you to learn to figure things out for yourself. You can't always rely on Mommy to think for you. If you always let someone else think for you and never learn to think for yourself, you will end up always doing what they want you to do. You'll never be able to figure out what you want to do and follow your own dreams."

She looked very thoughtful at that.

I still don't know if I handled it as well as I could have. I hope she doesn't throw many more though. It tires me out to have to handle such as that.

Five months later: that's the only such tantrum she's ever thrown over math, which she now loves. Phonics is a different matter. For a while she was throwing such tantrums over phonics almost daily. Not because she couldn't read, she was reading at a third-fourth grade level at the time. She was trying to memorize all the words instead of breaking them down phonetically, and getting bogged down and frustrated. She hated putting sounds to letters for a while, but now she's getting better at it, the tantrums have almost disappeared, and both her reading skill and the time she spends reading have gone through the roof.