Monday, December 30, 2013

Catan: Boys vs. Girls

For Christmas, I gave my husband the game, Settlers of Catan.  We had talked about getting it for a long time.  It was on sale at Target just before Christmas and so I was glad to be able to get it for him.

We sat down to play it with our girls yesterday and had a great time!  But, I noticed a few things about our game.

When my younger daughter wanted a particular resource card, I said "okay."  My husband looked at me with incredulity and said, "You're not supposed to do that!"  I watched us reaction.  A minute later, she added another section of road and took a card from my husband that gave him some points towards winning.  Both my daughters and I responded by going "Ahhh..  Oh, we're so sorry.  It'll be okay."  

That's girls.  I sat there for a minute and realized what had happened.  Then, I made an announcement to the group. 

I said, "This is what happens when girls play this game!  If it had been a group of boys, they would have said to my husband, "Ha! Ha!  Yahoo!  You lost the road!  Whoo!"  with a voice of victory and taunting fun.  


I burst out laughing because of the realization!  

I know that some girls are super competitive.  I am actually one of them and I have been a poor sport most of my life.  This happened to be one of my more successful times playing and being a good sport!  I was relaxed about it and wasn't out to win.  I was out to have fun and not stress.  I have raised my kids to enjoy playing the game, not to enjoy winning.  Because I didn't want them to think it wasn't any fun when they lose.  I've never emphasized the loser when we play a game.  

And now they're good sports.  I'm so proud of them!  They can win and play for fun.  But, they can lose and still be glad they played.  I played UNO with my older daughter yesterday and she didn't hold back any punches!  So, I matched her and played the same way.  We had a good time.  She won two matches and I won two.  

But, it isn't serious and it's just for fun.  I am so thankful for this gift.  I am thankful that my girls are better sports that I was and have been.  I am proud of them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Teaching the Alphabet

My little boy is in kindergarten.  He's sitting beside me looking at a dinosaur alphabet picture book.  He loves the pictures.  Teaching a child how to write their letters sound like a very simple thing, but I've discovered over the years that it isn't.  Especially if you have children who track from down to up and right to left instead of up to down and left to right!  All three of my children have found their own ways of writing some of their letters.  My oldest daughter is now in fifth grade and continues to write some of the letters the way she taught herself--not the conventional way.  My middle daughter has followed the same pattern.  And now my son...  Well, I began thinking about my middle daughter and youngest son this past summer.  I came to a few conclusions with the help of fellow classroom and homeschooling teachers.

Conclusion #1:  Children have learning differences.  Not all children's brains are wired the same way.  When I observe my children, they naturally write their letters from bottom to top.  My son is left handed and he naturally tracks from left to right.  These observations got me thinking...

Conclusion #2:  We often look at how children write and require that they all write their letters a certain way.  As I read many blogs and discussions, I began to realize that the general tone was very negative about the differences in how children write.  It was as if something was "wrong" with these children.  Is there anything "wrong" with my children?  Every bone in my body says, "no".  God made them the way they are.  He wired their brains.  Are they different?  Yes.  I need to remember not to fall into that trap of thinking something's wrong with my bottom to top writers and instead find ways to help them them cope with this difference.

The reason handwriting programs teach children to write from top to bottom is that it is quicker and because it helps children easily transition into writing in cursive.  Speed is really the advantage to the system of how we print our letters.

Conclusion #3:  It is helpful to teach children to write top to bottom, but if they don't, it's not the end of the world.  Try rhymes and gross motor handwriting practice.  Help children grow in their fine motor control through drawing and tracing exercises.  If their brains won't reset to write top to bottom, improved fine motor control will help them write faster.

One of the tools you could use is a book like Crazy Town Upside Down by
Vanessa Rouse.  She is a former special education teacher.  I emailed back and forth with her a bit as I was processing my observations of my children and their handwriting.  All three of my children have different levels of mixed dominance, though only my son is left handed.  All three track letters from bottom to top when writing--and have from the beginning.  Not all letters, but many.  They naturally make their o's opposite the way I always have.  These conclusions are mine that I've drawn.  They aren't scientific.  I have no list of research other than anecdotal evidence from several teachers, including myself, to draw on.  And books and the internet...  I read what I could find about being left handed and handwriting.

In any case, Crazy Town is a fun book that I've been using with my five year old son this school year to help him learn how to write his lowercase letters. It's been easy for him to make capital letters, but the lower case are much harder for him (as they are for most children because of the curves and the fine motor skills that are required).  For each letter, Ms. Rouse has a fun illustration and rhyme to help kids remember how to write their lowercase letters.  Use the book to first introduce the letters when children are two, three, and four.  Trace the letters in the book with a finger.  With my son, I have a table top chalkboard easel that I set up.  He stands and traces the letter as we recite the rhyme and simplify it down to just a few words to remember.  I use the whole easel to write a large letter because one teacher explained to me that it's easier for boys to learn handwriting as a gross motor skill first and then as a fine motor skill.  My son uses his whole arm in writing the letters on the easel.

I need to rabbit trail here because something happened as I began writing this review-- I realized that my son had stopped writing his own words over the past month or two.  I still remember when he handed me a paper at age 4 with a sentence on it.  It had a period and a mixture of capital and lower case letters.  All the words were spelled incorrectly, but they were spelled phonetically.  He understood that he needed to break words apart into their sounds and then write down the letters for those sounds.  But, his reading skills have developed so quickly this fall, that he has made the connection that words are spelled a certain way before he was able to write the sounds down the way he wants to.  And my little boy is a perfectionist--like many children.  He wants to do things right.  So, he won't write since he realizes that he doesn't know how!  So, I need to regroup.

But, I've seen this before...  children can shut down for lots of reasons.  But, the biggest one I've seen in my children is the belief that they "can't" do it.  Which really means that they can't do it "right".  

So, I started out this week differently than the past few weeks.  I knew it was crucial for him to start writing again.  Monday found me leaving blanks at the ends of sentences for him to write a word in.  Tuesday found me giving him robot notecards my son so he could write a note--in his own letters to a friend.  I use Great Source's Kindergarten Writing Curriculum which aims to help children understand the purposes for our writing.  On Wednesday, I told him he can write in capitals and lowercase letters whenever he wants.  I just need to get him writing!  As his lowercase penmanship improves, I know he'll be able to start writing these letters instead of the capitals (which are mostly straight lines or big curves (not many little ones).  

I'm going to keep pressing on using Crazy Town And The Writing Spot.  That's the hardest part about being a teacher.  You need to pick a course and follow it for a long time before you'll see results.  But, you also need to pay attention to the signs that tell you to turn or switch lanes.  I've learned a lot from teaching Eli this fall.  And I'm thankful for what he's teaching me.

Final note... Ms. Rouse sent me Crazy Town and the accompanying workbook for review.  I only use the book along with my chalkboard.  The workbook is nice, but here's my recommendation on what to do with it.  Separate the pages and laminate them.  As you're reading from the book, have your child trace the letter on the page.  Your child could also then use a dry erase pen and practice the letters on these sheets over and over.  For more information about her book, you can look up her website here:  Her books are available on Amazon.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Crazy Town Upside Down from Ms. Rouse for review.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A funeral for my beloved pencil sharpener...

I did actually think about it...  A few weeks ago, my electric pencil sharpener died.  I was honestly sad.  It was trustworthy and faithful.  It had survived twenty plus moves all around the country and kept sharpening pencils for me through seven years of homeschooling.  

But, it died.  At first, it sputtered.  Then, it really died.  I couldn't fix it.  I didn't know what to do.  I needed a new one fast because of all the pencils my kids write with every day.  As a bandaid fix, I went to Walmart and bought a $7 Xacto manual sharpener that used suction to stay on the table.  Ugh.  It was a disaster!  $7 completely sadly wasted.  So, I started looking around and came upon a sharpener that a lot of teachers seemed to love.  

I was skeptical.  It was a manual sharpener.  It didn't look like anything that special.  Was it worth the price? It was comparable to a good electric sharpener.  Hmm...  

So, I waited for it to arrive in the mail.  

It came last Friday and I opened up the box hopeful that this sharpener would do the trick!  My kids looked at it as I did with puzzlement.  No directions were included, but there was a clamp that obviously inserted into the sharpener.  After a minute or two, I figured it out.

1.  Slide the clamp bar into the base of the sharpener.
2.  Pinch the black boxes on top together and pull the silver plate out away from the body of the sharpener.
3.  Pinch the black boxes and insert a pencil through to the sharpener.
4.  Turn the handle towards you with your left hand three or four times.  This is all it takes.  I thought the sound of the sharpening would change when the pencil is done and it doesn't.

Voila!  You have one very (!!) sharp pencil.  With children, you will want to be specific and tell them only to turn it three, maybe four times.  

The black knobs hold the pencil in place so that you don't have to.  The drawer comes out very easily when it needs to be emptied.  It's clear so you know when it needs to be emptied.  The sharpener feels sturdy.  

My kids love this sharpener--and so do I.  I still my old one--it had been with me for twenty-one years!  But, this one is a worthy replacement.

You can find this awesome sharpener at Classroom Friendly Supplies' website.  The sharpener is $24.99, but it has free shipping which makes this a good price if you check around.  

Please note that I received a complimentary sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies for review.  

A Jumble of Disconcerting and Infuriating Ideas

Right now while I'm writing this post, there is a documentary playing in the background.  It is called Raw Faith.  It is a documentary about Marilyn Sewell, a unitarian minister.  It is honestly just what I expected.  My heart hurts for the pain of her childhood and family life.  But, I hurt too for some of the choices she made--like leaving her husband when her children were toddlers.  She talked about it--and didn't say there was abuse--only that he didn't feel like "the right one".  Interesting.  She talks over and over about people being "good" people.  She mentions having a "calling", but not WHO that calling is from or where that calling comes from.  She mentions love over and over, but not the source of that love.  She attributes that love to the beauty of people.  Her ministry took her from her children because she hasn't had much left over for them.  Several people, including her two boys, talk about the role that the church fills in her life.  It is her significant other.

Where is God in this picture?  She believes in the wisdom she has inside of her--"the divine is within".  It reminds me of what I heard over and over in the Quaker church I grew up in.  There was much focus on "that of God in every man", but none on Jesus.  In Raw Faith, Ms. Sewell's therapist encouraged her to listen to her own deepest longings.

I find this idea over and over in our culture.  The idea is that the answers can be found within ourselves.  I found it in a teaching book about poetry... I found it in Suzanne LaFleur's fiction book Eight Keys... I found it in just about every recent romantic comedy that I've seen in the past few years...  I see it in advertising every day.

He isn't shown encouraging her to read God's Word.  He never once quotes Scripture.  Hmmm...  In her sermons, she tells stories from history, but not from the Word (at least on the screen).  There is this idea of truth that continually comes up in this film--but I wonder where is this truth that she speaks of coming from?  The point I am starting to see in the eyes of this woman is wholeness--she is on a journey to wholeness.

I don't think she can find that without God.  Christ came to die for her sins and my sins and your sins.

It's very interesting to me to hear someone preach over and over that the answers can be found within us.  I don't think they can.  What I see in myself makes me realize more and more how much I cannot understand and how Great God is.  God amazes me.  No human can create a flower the way God can.  We can nurture it, but we can't create it.  No human can create the weather.  The big bang and spontaneous generation has not been able to be replicated despite many human attempts.

But, the reality of God is something that I see in my own heart when He washes it clean and compels me to forgive when I don't want to.  He rid my heart of anger when I prayed that I had tried for years to dispel on my own.  God is very real to me.

In contrast to this documentary, I have been reading Mark Driscoll's new book A Call to Resurgence. It's been interesting, eye-opening, and heart-cringing.  Pastor Driscoll has a very blunt, direct style.  My husband tells me constantly that I always choose the middle of the road.  He's right.  I do.  I try to be a diplomatic, peacemaker at all times without sacrificing what I believe.  Pastor Driscoll, on the other hand, feels called to live very differently.  He says those things that cut right to the quick.  He isn't averse to making people squirm.  He is a west-coast, Seattle-living Christian.  I think this is important to note because we recently had a visiting pastor preach at our east coast church. The pastor was from the west coast and his style of speaking was so different than what I am used to now.  But, it is very much like I was once used to in my youth growing up on the west coast. 

But, back to this book.  The premise of this book is that Christendom is dead--which Driscoll gives lots of support for (and I agree with).  So, as believers, we need to band together--to love others well, to overlook tribal boundaries (basically denominational boundaries), pray for one another, and seek to glorify God in our lives.  But, we need to do this without the false belief that we can rest on our laurels and think the world is friendly to Christians.  It's not.  That's basically the point to this book.  It's easy to be lazy and take it for granted that the world is going to make life easy for you.  But, when you realize it isn't, you realize, too, that you have to fight to live what you believe.  That's Driscoll's point.  He's not inflammatory about how Christians need to engage in politics and that our salvation will be found if our country becomes a Christian nation.  That's not the point of this book.  His point is that we need to stop criticizing other believers and instead focus on loving people--believers and unbelievers and sharing the Word of God.  True. 

The book itself was interesting.  But, I found that it went on and on.  Often Driscoll's examples almost offend, but don't quite.  He really gets close to an imaginary line between inoffensive and offensive.  He attacks a lot of people by name.  Sometimes I felt what he said in the book didn't need to be said.  I found myself mired down in the book and had to jump ahead.  The second half of the book about tribalism and getting over the boundaries felt unsettling to me.  How he spoke of himself and who he is (well known) also was a bit unsettling to me in the context of the tribal discussion.  But, I very much agree with what he says on the last page (295), "More than ever, it is important that godly tribal chiefs love one another, pray for one another, and labor together for the greater good of the Kingdom of God.  This does not require watering down our convictions but rather adding to them the Bible's exhortations to love and unity."  I whole heartedly agree.

Would I recommend this book?  Only if you know you like Mark Driscoll's style.  It can come off as very abrasive to people and I would definitely preview the book before purchasing it. 

Side by side, these two media inputs are quite a contrast.  One is without the Word and one exhorts the Word and truth.  If there was a continuum between the two, I am close to Driscoll's camp, even though there are many things I see differently.  I appreciate that he feels a deep conviction to call Christians to be alert and not sleepy.  Christians need to actively live their faith and love others with the love God has given us (I John). 

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Driscoll's book for review from the publisher.