Saturday, 30 June 2012
The first days after school let out, while my mind was full of deadlines and laundry, the girls were stoked about being out for the summer. So excited, in fact, that they went beyond indulging in hilarious doll play, jumping on the trampoline, and--now that the school-year fiction ban* was no longer on for one of them--reading fiction books. They were so excited that they made some lists for themselves.
I often buy those pretty magnetic notepads from the Target dollar bins. They're handy for grocery lists and chore lists so certain people won't forget what I asked them to do. I saw that the girls had helped themselves to a couple of these notebook pages. Danielle was tracking the types of walks we were taking. She had boxes to check next to "mailbox," "neighbors," and several others. Annika's really caught my eye at first. The title was, "Things I want to Complete this SUMMER." Oh, yay, I thought. Maybe the times I have struggled to model a little discipline and resolve have rubbed off on her. I eyed the contents hopefully, looking for the household projects we had talked about. Here were the points, haphazardly bulleted:
- back back flip
- handstand lunge
- ? back flip
- tell the chipmucks apart
- Call all my friends
- Have at least one play date
- Have Midnite** eat out or my hand
According to what Annika has checked off here, she has mastered the handstand lunge and Midnite is no longer too shy to take food she is offering. Maybe once she has identified distinguishing features of the chipmunks, she will be ready to work with me on the linen closet, the loft--pretty much the whole house needs cleaning and reorganizing. I need to make a list of my own, probably a longish one. I don't think it's quite the summer list that the girls had in mind, but it's one that will make their mother very happy once it is accomplished. After that, I will feel ready to make a summer to-do checklist that looks a lot more like Annika's.
*No, a fiction ban is not some outrageous idea imposed on our children by a clueless administration. I decided, around the fourth quarter, that one of them was so into fantasy series that she was not concentrating on her schoolwork. So we were done with fiction for the year, I told her. I let her teacher know, too. It helped--I think.
**Midnite is one of our more recently acquired chickens from our friends' organic egg farm. She is black while all her fellow layers are brown. Her full name is Midnite Soccer. She is named after a previous chicken named Soccer who died last year. Annika greatly mourned her passing, and thus named the new chicken in her honor.
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
This is the second year in a row that we got to travel to Denver and stay with Jeff's parents. I tried to keep a good record of it on here last year, and managed to put up a little bit of information. Below is a bit I wrote last year, but never posted. The house and Jeff's parents are the same, but we didn't quite have a routine this year, since Jeff ended up going to harvest for a week and me, the girls, and Jeff's dad drove around Kansas for a few days. Here are thoughts from last year:
Jeff’s parents live in a pleasant brick and white-trimmed house in an older neighborhood in the suburb of Denver. Jeff’s dad keeps the front and back lawns green, thick, and weed-free. Jeff’s mom has the indoors clean and inviting. They always give us the cool basement rooms, where the beds are supremely comfortable. Except for want of a kitchen, one could live in the basement.
We reached the Denver area in the late afternoon on Saturday, having left Montana early Friday morning. Once at my in-laws, I knew the spoiling was about to begin in earnest, when Jeff’s dad mentioned “Dairy Queen” within forty-five minutes of our being there.
The little girls weren’t the only ones spoiled. Jeff’s parents are generous and love to be with family. Not only did we get to go to Dairy Queen several times; we were also treated to Red Lobster, Casa Bonita (Google it—you really have to see), Chuck E. Cheese, and a few other dinners. Then Jeff’s mom cooked several excellent meals. They saw to it that we didn’t starve during our visit.
The good food fueled an active visit. We quickly fell into a pleasant daily routine overlaid with special outings. Mornings and evenings, for example, we walked the five minutes to the park, often with Jeff’s dad accompanying us, as the walk was part of his exercise. Once there, I might walk around the park’s track a couple of laps while the kids raced for the play equipment. Often, I would bring a book and find a spot in the shade to read while the girls climbed, spun, swung on the monkey bars, and made new acquaintances.
If it was really hot and no other kids were around, I lay in the smooth molded plastic at the bottom of one of the slides, where it was cool. True, it was tricky to stay in one spot in my unconventional lounger. But with the high sides directing my eyes upward, I could look up from my book and stare at the sky. One evening especially I did this. While staring into the depths of blue with occasional airy wisps of vapor, I saw a bird perfectly silhouetted not far above me. No drug could have made me as calm and content as I was in those minutes.
Even though my labors could hardly be called that, it is a blessing to get to rest from them.
Monday, 18 June 2012
Maybe if I want to get more done around here, I should plan more trips out of town. Danielle and Annika spent the days before we left for Denver talking about seeing Gramps and Grammy (Jeff's parents), their house, their lush lawn, the cool basement room they slept in last year, the outings we enjoyed (that could very well result in some type of chilled confection). On a walk the day before leaving, Annika told me that every time she thought about seeing her grandparents, she got an excited feeling "from here to here"--indicating a space from about the bottom of her ribs to the middle of her throat.
Being eager to leave, they did their own packing once again this year, Annika's carry-on again complete with a doll riding in the front pocket*. I did not direct their project, just came across Danielle's hastily penciled list on the counter that covered all her bases, plus some. Also, I noticed Annika's suitcase when it was open on the floor later: the tiny space inside was brimming neatly folded and stacked clothes. They planned a small regular suitcase, a "hotel bag," and a container of books, small toys, and writing materials for amusing themselves in the car. I heard Annika walking herself through what she would need out loud, something like: "Okay, at the hotel, we'll need to brush our teeth . . ."
They also busied themselves around the house to get it ready, even while I was occupied with my work. Danielle cleaned the bathrooms. Annika folded and put away laundry. They cleaned the chicken cage and did whatever else we asked, including hauling their stuff out so Jeff could pack the car. That gave me a pleasant enough boost that I didn't feel overwhelmed when it came to packing my own things and then vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and straightening the night before we left.
Then at about a quarter past five the next morning, when I got into the rental car and found the girls already in their seats, Annika said, "I can't believe this is really happening!"
Last year's longer stay with the grandparents--about a week--had not really been planned that way. It unfolded like that because harvest in Kansas had been hailed out and Jeff, the girls and I wouldn't be making the drive to the tiny western Kansas town where wild sunflowers along the roads toss in hot winds. So we stayed at Jeff's parents for almost Jeff's whole vacation. We went to a museum, became loyal customers at Dairy Queen, took the girls to a local pool, lounged around while the girls played in the back yard, walked to the park a couple times a day--whatever we did, it was a success, apparently.
We finished the seventeen-hour drive to Denver yesterday, before lunch, and the girls have been living it up. What is there to do at Gramp's and Grammy's? Plenty, it seems:
1.) Get out a vintage Battleship set and lie on the floor playing contentedly.
2.) Walk to the park with Mom and Gramps and play on the equipment, especially the stuff that spins. Be open to doing this more than once a day.
3.) Cut pictures out of Better Homes and Gardens and use folded masking tape to display them in your notebook.
4.) Work with your sister to write a new Cinderella play, where Drusilla is much younger and inherits Cinderella's clothes; use bedding to start making pretty things to wear for the play.
5.) Run around the yard squirting each other with squirt guns while the adults look on laconically from comfortable chairs in the shade.
6.) Lie on towels in the shade of a huge tree and read books.
7.) Get excited about sprinklers being turned on while you are reading on the lawn (to amuse the adults, who want to see how you react to getting sprayed), run and get bathing suits on, and play in the water.
8.) Play with your cousin's nine-month old baby; keep him out of the dog food and make sure that's a Cheerio he's about to put in his mouth, not a candy wrapper.
9.) Work on your script for The Benedict Society--you so want them to make that into a movie someday.
10.) Play with large lego blocks in the basement. Make Rapunzel's castle and pose your small plastic dogs around it. Make some sort of fairy compound.
11.) Sit with Grammy in the evening on the bench out front and talk to her.
12.) Eat a lot of good food--Grammy's cooking, Olive Garden meals (where one might get a whole calamari appetizer to oneself), snacks Grammy has set out, and who knows what else to come?
13.) Do flips and stuff on the thick grassy lawn out back.
14.) Introduce yourself to the neighbor kids who play on the road in their bikes and hang out with them a little bit.
This trip, the wheat crop wasn't great, but it worked out for Jeff to go out there and work for a few days. The girls and I are driving with Jeff's dad tomorrow to go out and join him for a day or two, so he can show the girls the combines, the trucks, the old family homes, the dirt roads, the sprawling farms full of equipment, and of course some of the farmers themselves. We might drive around and see the towns where the girls' great grandparents lived among other important family sites. Then we should be back here where I may be getting to indulge in some of those excellent Denver garage sales. Since the girls aren't thrilled about garage sales like I am, they will be staying here with whoever else isn't going. And I'm sure they will find one or two things to keep them busy while I'm gone.
*This doll sports homemade spectacles Annika fashioned out of some household item, maybe it was a paperclip, and secured in place with rubber bands. Fascinating.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
In Part I, which probably just started out as a quick update on the girls' science fair projects, I ended up telling you about all the drama surrounding big projects from our point of view. Then I finally got around to what the girls were doing this year for their projects, but wound up just hinting. A real cliffhanger that blog entry was.
I'll have pictures up, I hope soon, of the girls' displays. This year wasn't easy, but I would say it was successful--the girls learned not only about the topic they were exploring, but also about the scientific method and about organizing and executing tasks.
Annika's work was solid fifth grade performance, I would say. I helped her find some ideas by looking online. At first, she was going to build a catapult. I felt lukewarm about this. What is the point, my mind was thinking. You get a little kit, build the machine, and answer some questions about what conditions make objects fly furthest and so on. It's a little more original than a volcano, perhaps, but no appeal unless you could add context to it: a miniature walled city from the Middle Ages, maybe, where you could also have a battering ram and stage a tiny battle. Your little war machines could be to scale, and so could the force of the pebbles you hurled. You'd have done research on warfare of the time, and described actual sieges. I'd probably spend a couple of minutes at that display, were I to walk by it in the gym.
Or, in a more likely scenario, you and your dad could build a catapult out of rubber bands and wood, and see whether bigger or smaller pebbles went the farthest. That's it. End of story. I was glad to help Annika look for something else.
We found an idea for experimenting with how background music affects academic performance. So we adapted it. Annika played a couple different types of music--rock and classical--on two different days while a handful of her classmates worked on five problems of long division. On the third day, the kids worked a third set of problems in silence. Annika kept track on a chart showing the scores achieved by each student for each type of music, and had another chart showing the averages for each day.
Since classical music had the highest average, Annika decided that students performed best to classical music. I looked at her charts and thought the evidence inconclusive. We had controlled for most of the variables by having the students work the problems all at the same time, at school. However, she conducted the experiment only once. I asked her how she knew that her four subjects weren't extra tired one day, or a little extra distracted for one reason or another, or one of them could have been upset, which might have resulted in a score that pulled a day's average down. (And what does an average tell you, anyway?) For more helpful results, she probably should have done the experiment multiple times. If proving hypotheses rested on one quick experiment, we could have new drugs on the market within a couple of weeks.
On her grading sheet, the teacher noted that Annika needed to have done some research. As I said, a solid fifth grade performance. She had an attractive board (spray-painted purple by her dad), and got a 94.
Danielle decided to test the effectiveness of childproof lids. She needed a crop of little kids to test out her four bottles labeled A, B, C, and D, and fortunately, there were three Kindergartens right in the building. The teachers seemed eager to cooperate, so Danielle was almost in business except for securing the permission of parents. Here is her letter:
Dear Kindergarten parents,
My name is Danielle ___, and I am doing a science fair project on childproof lids. I need your approval to time your children opening these lids. I will time them opening five lids, and then I will give them a dum dum sucker. Please write me a note if your child has had a lot of experience opening these lids (in which case they will still be included in testing, but not the data), or if they are allergic to dum-dum suckers. I will not use names while presenting, and the containers will be empty and clean.
Danielle ____, 7th grader, ____ School
Following that introduction, she had a worksheet of sorts for parents to fill in:
I, ___________ the parent of
______________, give permission for he\she to be tested.
I, _________________the parent of ________________ do not want he\ she to be tested.
_______________ Is allergic to dum dums.
________________ Has had a lot of experience with these lids.
The dum-dum suckers, which were to be such key players, ended up causing some consternation, because Danielle had forgotten all about them the weekend before she was to start testing. Fortunately, her teacher stepped in with some Lifesavers, and Danielle could get right to work.
The testing took her much longer than she thought it would. Weeks, in fact, of her lunch hour. She said the Kindergarten teachers didn't seem quite as enthusiastic to have the children called out as they had initially. Jeff and I tried to talk her into not feeling like she had to test every soul six and under at the school. "My goodness, Danielle, how many kids have you tested now? Almost two classes' worth? And it's been such a long time. Surely you have enough information by now." But she wanted to do it right.
She didn't end up testing all three full classes, but worked with quite a few of the kids. She would time them initially, and if they hadn't opened the lid within a certain elapsed time, she would demonstrate opening it once and hand it back to the child for one more try. I think parents had a little more to worry about with this than dum-dums. Most kids worked happily with the lids, but occasionally, children would get frustrated, as one little boy did just as Danielle's favorite teacher was walking by. He couldn't wrestle the bottle open, so he put his head down on his arms and started crying. A Lifesaver was quickly offered, ending the session on a happy note after all.
Danielle's evidence was conclusive. The Kindergarteners were able consistently to get into one of the bottles in under ten seconds. Encouraged by her teacher, Danielle wrote a letter to the company describing the experiment and its outcome. There were pie charts to make it more persuasive. She has heard back from the company, but she thinks it's a form letter. I think they have some responsibility to look into this, even if they were alerted by a seventh grader.
The project included a research paper from which I learned a great deal. Once we get done with the science fair events, I might post more of the actual content. All the science fair entries for the county were ranked first, second, or third, and Danielle's got a second-place ribbon. She certainly worked hard for it, and fulfilled her few years of longing to get into the county science fair.
It took a school to get her through--teachers, parents, kids. Her science teacher has certainly been cheerful and supportive throughout the process. She probably doesn't get a lot of science participation at this level of intensity. And I think Danielle owes those Kindergarten teachers a nice thank-you note, and maybe a little gift card, for being such troopers.
Saturday, 04 February 2012
It's science fair season, and this year both my ten-year-old and my twelve-year-old will be hauling home the familiar folded cardboard display and asking Jeff to spray paint it red. The girls' school is serious about their science fair: no aimless "mold" or "snail" projects for my girls, as my lucky mother enjoyed when I did science fair in eighth and ninth grades. Instead, students from about fifth grade on up have to choose their subject with care. A handout guides them through: What is the guiding question? There must only be one. What is the hypothesis? And by sixth grade, what are the variables, and how will you control for them? And there must be a procedure and steps outlined. Your ideas about the family dog and your social experiments will probably be turned down.
One year, after school, I pulled up to the front of the building unsuspecting, and there was Danielle, hunched up on the stone bench. She had been crying. What was wrong? Her project proposal had been rejected. She had wanted to swab the school bathroom sinks for germs, and she had talked it up and planned it out, but it was not to be.
On the one hand, I understood that a little girl who couldn't yet keep track of her pencil would have trouble managing the details of such a project, and it also made sense that she was encouraged to pick something else because another student already hatched the idea of swabbing the drinking fountains. We wouldn't want too many swabbers loose in the hallways. But on the other hand, I thought, Man, she's in the sixth grade. Should it be this hard for an eleven-year-old to get the nod for her science fair project? Were they looking for design and execution worthy of a science journal? I had already been overwhelmed at the question about controlling for the variables, worried that her science was over my head. Now we'd have to go through it again.
That year, she got over her disappointment and chose a project her teacher helped her find on the Internet--something about melting points of snow and ice under certain conditions. Her teacher worked with her, and ended up taking some dear pictures of Danielle with the top three quarters of her face staring over the edge of a table into a glass measuring cup that she was stirring. Not science journal material, and dull topic to me, but solid for a sixth grade science project, and Danielle was happy with it.
And I was happy that it hadn't been like the previous year's, where her baking soda and vinegar needs had been enormous, and there had been a lot of activity in the bathtub. I didn't mind her using the white vinegar so much, because that comes by the gallon, but the rice vinegar and the apple cider vinegar, doled out in ounces . . . I was more sorry to see that go. I was, however, pleased to see her pace herself beautifully, so that by the time it was due, she was ready: display board, Excel charts, written components, and clever title (Fizz, I think it was). Yes, the teacher evaluated it and found some of it wanting. But Danielle had carried it out by herself, except that I had typed items she dictated to me. Oh, yes, and Jeff applied the red spray paint.
Fizz, though, was a breeze compared to the insect project. This wasn't even for science fair. This was a biology project dreamed up by a popular teacher probably years before my children set foot in the school. The insects were to be done during the summer between the fourth and fifth grades. I used to see the cases of them pinned and labeled and displayed for parental admiration in different places in the school during Open House. I would study them indifferently, thinking of them as a product of "the big kids," not making a connection to my daughter and our summer.
It was the summer of dead bugs. My daughter got over the initial enthusiam and worked on it in fits and starts throughout the pleasant months. Indoors, the girls' loft bedroom was not so pleasant. One would think that a budding naturalist would keep the collected specimens in one safe place, out of the reach of curious pets and not where one might trod on a creature with a stinger in the dark. But Danielle is not a budding naturalist, and she wanted little to do with her project. So I think there was at least one close call with our large lab wanting to indulge his adventurous palate, or maybe it was our little cat. It seems like there was a lifeless yellow jacket on the floor for awhile. And if I remember right, there were bugs here and there throughout the room. There were already many different species she was supposed to have. Maybe she looked forward to the extra layer of challenge when she would need to hunt down the bugs again, this time in her room.
The project due date came upon us fast, once the school year started. Danielle had to find all her dead insects, pin them to styrofoam in a manner specifically outlined in the teacher's handout, and label them. So I had to buy styrofoam, help her identify the creatures, and type labels. The night before the project due-date was a mother-daughter bonding experience I would rather not have had. Danielle was tired to the bone, and not open to maternal input.
I felt that she needed the input. Earlier in the evening, she had been working on the display, and Annika called me up excited. "You should see what Danielle did with her bugs, Mom!" Oh, good. This was going to turn out better than expected. What I saw amazed me. She had taken the four strips of styrofoam and made a kind of rickety rectangle attached with pins. I liked that idea. You could do something original, with bugs separated by species and little realistic habitats made for them. But she didn't have this in mind at all. Instead, every bug was skewered into the narrow strip on top. This was not going to be her most glamorous moment in her school career.
Later I made the mistake of seeing the other bug projects in her class. Nice. Beyond nice. Some of them looked like they had been done by graphic designers. I've noticed a great many young kids who are already good artists. But some of these were beyond them. One that stood out was drawn like a pretty little house, an attractive setting for neat rows of insects. Prominent for its own reasons was the 3-D one, whose insects had languished in our loft for weeks, whose pins bristled at jaunty angles, and whose rectangular frame had taken a beating while being transported to the school.
One year I walked through the science fair displays. I got the impression that children in this valley are going to graduate knowing how to set up and carry out a decent experiment, whether they want to or not. My bold proclamation of MOLD on my science fair board and the six-month snail journal in my past did not measure up to the systematic and tidily presented rows of work occupying the school gym. I noticed that some of the most eye-catching experiments answered practical questions, things I would really want to know. Like, what brand of microwave popcorn leaves the least unpopped kernels? I hoped that the girls would conceive of such projects, with straightforward questions to answer, yet a magnet to onlookers who would cease to be merely polite parents showing up, who really wanted to know the result.
Turns out, this year both of their projects are practical. Annika's is a bit easier to execute than Danielle's, as it involves only five classmates and does not complicate matters by taking weeks of lunch hours to test sixty-odd Kindergartners for certain manual dexterity. I'm actually curious about the outcomes. I will tell you all about it next time. Who knows--the Kindergarten one could end up in the next issue of Science, as long as the editors are fine with the subjects being bribed with lifesavers.
I always ask for a bite of what my daughters are getting to eat.