Monday, March 30, 2020

Making humans who make presentations

Okay all you teachers out there, I think I might be starting to get it. There is something pretty cool about creating an assignment, watching the kids embrace it (and fight it) and then implement it and pull it off. For me there's a little bit of, "Wow, I made this assignment up. And it kind of worked out. Look what they did!" And then, since I also happen to be the mother of my students, there's this other piece that screams, "ALSO, I made these kids! And they're so amazing!" It's a merging of creativity and pride on a whole new plane.

Jack in particular really impressed me. I had given him a sheet of questions to answer and that's the paper he was referring to when he did his presentation. It didn't even occur to me beforehand that he would need to rephrase the questions as statements in order for it to make sense and so his little brain was working overtime doing that on the fly. I was so proud!

Because a new form of online learning rolls out this week in our district, last week I wanted to wrap up any pending projects that I'd given the kids during the 2 weeks of Mom's-100%-In-Charge School. I'm sure legitimate homeschoolers are a lot more organized and set due dates when they assign projects, but I'm obviously making up everything on the fly which is extremely good for my perfectionist-everything-needs-to-be-just-so personality (or so I'm told). So on Friday morning, I decided that the planet science presentation I'd assigned each kids was due....THAT DAY. Daddy was home and so it seemed fitting that we make it a family thing.

One kid in particular was less than thrilled. You see, she's a lot like me. She needs structure and boundaries and guidelines and a vague "teach me some facts you find about Neptune in a Powerpoint presentation" is just a bit too loose for her liking. We'd already had this conversation when I first gave the assignment, after which I provided her with the following guidelines:

I guess I thought I was pretty clear about what I wanted. But leave it to your child to suddenly make you feel like you are the World's Most Incompetent Communicator. Also apparently she lost the above document.

"Tell me WHAT you want me to teach you!
I don't know what kind of facts I'm supposed to include!
My teacher always tells me what to cover!
How many slides long is it supposed to be?
Are there supposed to be pictures?

It took a couple hours to pull ourselves together and it was a stretching exercise but eventually I was able to convince her that whatever she had at 3 PM that afternoon was good enough. There were going to be no grades! There weren't any rules! Every answer was going to be the right answer! What a dream...but only for some types of less-perfectionist learners. (Weird! - It's like she's related to me or something). Honestly, I would hate me if I had been her but we pushed through and she came up with an awesome finished product and we are both perhaps better humans for it.

So all that to say, I see some of the draws of teaching. It's kind of a cool experience to see a learning venture all the way through. That said, today is now Monday and I am beyond exhausted and have literally ZERO IDEA HOW I WILL MAKE IT THROUGH THIS WEEK.

But I did get a round of antibiotics from my doctor today for this everlasting illness so hopefully more energy is around the corner? One can only hope.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The 50 hour day

I realize this photo makes it look like we all sit around on our respective devices all morning doing our work together. Please don't be misled. This pose lasted a solid 23 seconds before Pandora wouldn't work on Emma's computer (and she wanted music to serenade her math work) and Isla could hear the instrumental piano leaking from my headphones, which was breaking her concentration, so she moved to another. This is essentially her M.O. anyways...wherever her siblings are, she is in a different room. But the picture was cute and we all need some cute right about now so I snapped it. 

Graham might have tasked the kids with writing their current Teacher in Resident notes of appreciation last night after I lost my shizzle at the end of a super rotten day. I like the mental picture of me shugling with Jack. I'm pretty sure it's snuggling but I think shugling sounds more fun.

This week is slogging along. Our new reality of being home bound is really sinking in. I find strange comfort in the fact that the whole world is in this together. Often my struggles have felt so unique and individualized so shifting everyone's baseline normal helps me, oddly enough, feel like I'm being "seen" in the midst of the chaos. And if there's one fundamental thing I've learned that I need, it's to be seen and understood by others.

I've been trying to get us outside every day moving our bodies. I need it. The kids need it (though they definitely don't know it). My one guaranteed way to get them out the door is to retrieve our free kids lunches at our neighborhood middle school. In addition to providing lunch, they are also providing breakfast for the following day. I'm so grateful for one less decision I have to make each day (what to feed them) and hopefully it will also help our grocery budget which is off the handle this month with all the rumors of total lockdown. Usually I make the kids walk but yesterday as a special "treat," I let them ride their bikes. 

Rain or shine, we are getting out there. The days feels 50 hours long and so yesterday I made us all go on a neighborhood bike loop in the afternoon as well. We have the time so, why not? The forecast has been for rain all week but we have been blessed with pockets of sun and we are monopolizing on them. The kids also told me about this yoga storyteller called Cosmic Kids that posts exercise videos on YouTube (apparently this is what they do in PE at school when they have a sub). Yesterday they/we did Frozen yoga and this morning it was Pokeman. It wasn't on their school list today but Jack actually ASKED for it and it bought me 26 minutes to finish getting ready and mop the floor so I went with it like a boss. 

Graham's Aunt Nancy has gone above and beyond and has been teaching our kids (and some of the other second cousins) both art and writing lessons via Zoom. 

She taught the first class with my kids in person (when our district was the first to close) and then she took it online which has worked remarkably well. She even porch-delivered some of the art supplies the kids needed. I'm learning a lot second hand from the kids. Perhaps I should just sit in and do the lesson along with them. 

The first session they learn about different color techniques using Prismacolor pencils which are waxier and allow for more blending and shading. In their next session, they learning about how to use different types of lines in their art and they were tasked with creating 5 unique building designs in a non-Coronavirus futuristic world. Today, they began a writing lesson using their buildings as a launching point. 

Our district is putting the finishing touches on a Remote Learning version 2.0 that will begin next week. The state of WA issued an order that learning needs to continue in some capacity during this shutdown. It doesn't sound like it will be nearly as interactive as the first version was but at least they will be in contact with their teachers again and will receive some teacher-led direction. This teacher was doing her best but it's really hard to "quickly come up with a curriculum" for three different grade levels on the fly. I had about a million link options which was much more overwhelming than helpful.

I will close with the above photo that I found immensely reassuring when I read it. My eight-year-old thinks I'm "helpable" so I guess there's hope for me yet. 😂

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

An exercise in challenging perfectionism (i.e. doing a craft project!)


I decided I'm no longer going to state what day of homeschooling we are on because, if we're being technical, I'm actually beginning my 4th week of having kids at home so my count was inaccurate anyway. Plus we took this past Friday "off" from sit-down school and went to see the daffodils in the Skagit Valley. So the perfectionist in me wonders which days "count" and which days don't and then things get messy and I start to reveal less glamorous parts of my like-to-categorize-everything personality. And so let's get crazy and live in the gray and NOT EVEN COUNT DAYS because does keeping track of time even matter anymore?

This week are FEELING IT. I hardly slept last night. And one thing I AM still counting is the number of days I've been sick. Today is day 15 and I've kept up a fairly positive attitude but that always starts to waver a bit after 2 full weeks of feeling like crap. We're trying to get the train back on track and remember the many, many things we have to be grateful for but some minutes are harder than others. Especially when I'm seated next to a kid who literally moans with pain(?), boredom(?) every time a new math problem pops up on her computer screen.

Last night, the governor gave the official "Stay Home" order for the state of Washington. We were already mostly home so it doesn't change much other than that we will no longer be allowing the kids to interact in-person with anyone outside I home because they are simply unable to successfully keep a 6-foot social distance buffer. They were horrified by this news and are quick to tell you, "This virus is ruining everything!" 

I keep thinking we will do more "fun" school like sewing, art projects, cooking, gardening (and we are, to some extent), but it's amazing how quickly the day gets absorbed by the very short list of academics I'm asking of the kids (an online math program from school, journaling for the girls and a brief picture/1-2 sentence writing assignment for Jack), and with the sunshine last week, they have been chomping at the bit to get outside and play. Because of the governor's order, we decided to start our morning today by making mailboxes to put on the front porch so the neighbor kids can still communicate with each other via letters. The kids both loved it and also struggled when things didn't go *just* as they had planned. I have no idea what that feels like! Ha.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Homeschool Day 4: The Troops are Restless

Greetings from Immack Elementary! Isla decided we needed to make our dining room look more "school-like" so she taped a map up on the wall. Graham will be thrilled by the new color scheme! Emma also felt that the living room needed curtains "so the sun wouldn't shine in" (who's kid is she!?) and when I told her no, she made her own set up to keep the brightness at bay.

I'm not sure what was in the water this morning but everyone seems to be a little on edge. I'm getting a lot of push back from the students over requests they usually happily oblige. It must be the Thursday angsties. Even offering screens to work on learning apps isn't captivating their attentions as it has been. Perhaps even screens lose their luster after enough use (one can only hope!!)

I did dial my mom and let the kids chat with her and my dad via FaceTime at breakfast this morning. It was a huge hit for all parties! The kids got to show off their piano skills, their daily multivitamins, their braces-less teeth (Isla), their newly-braced teeth (Emma). All the important things, obviously. We have taken this stay-away-from-those-at-high-risk pretty seriously which means no visits with the grandparents. Thank goodness for technology that keeps us connected! I think we will try to use FaceTime and Marco Polo more frequently to keep the kids in touch with the people they love.

As for special assignments, I've asked each kid to select a planet in the solar system to research. The girls are putting together a Powerpoint presentation and will give the family an oral report to teach us what they have learned. Jack is going to create some sort of poster or visual and recite the facts he learned (he chose earth). Since the libraries are all shut down, we are having to get a little creative with our research. Today I found a video about earth on YouTube and wrote out a few questions I drew from the content for Jack to attempt to answer. I know I'm coming at him with methodologies that are above what is typical for his grade level but he's a bright kid and he's rising to the challenge. Thankfully the girls have been able to work more independently which allows me to focus more on Jack when needed. I spent a good 20 minutes creating the earth activity and he finished it in 10. Worth it? I'm not sure, but I'm definitely getting a taste for just how much teachers pour into their lessons to fill an ENTIRE DAY!!!!

When we learned about a week and a half ago that the library would be closing for good (for now), we made a run for it and I managed to check out from the little that was left on the shelves. I hid the books and I'm doling them out slowly so as to have something "new" to offer the kids. Ha! Never thought I'd see the day where I hid books from my kids to keep them from being read! I've also been thrilled to learn just how many people have videoed themselves reading picture books and then posted them to YouTube. When the library is closed....

Tomorrow is Friday and Graham is off - perhaps we will play hooky and enjoy this glorious spring sunshine and head outdoors. I've gotta say, I sure do love the flexibility!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Homeschool Day 3: The show must go on

Today was a more, shall I say, hands off day of homeschooling. Yesterday was full of St Patrick’s Day creativity and interaction (which involved extra mental energy on my part) so today I felt okay about making lists for each kid and letting them do more schoolwork on the devices we have on loan from the district. Plus, I had a video chat therapy appointment and needed the screens to “babysit” the offspring. Such is life in “crisis” situations like our world is in right now. Mama still needs to do her therapy! And the kids will survive. Jack only joined me in the room three times and I heard screaming from downstairs just twice. Success! In all seriousness, I am rather grateful that I can leave my kids unsupervised for 50 solid minutes and a) no one ends up bleeding, b) (some) actual schoolwork gets done and c) no furniture is permanently detailed with Sharpie. There is hope for those of you out there who find this concept unfathomable.

We have been staying home for the most part with the exception of walks. The last two days we have walked to the local middle school because they are serving free lunches (including breakfast for the following day) for all kids. My kids hate walking but they will walk for food evidently.

This afternoon we made an exception to our "stay home" rule to venture over to Seattle for a “field trip” to church. The girls were asked to be filmed reading Bible stories that will be put on social media to encourage congregants this week. Emma had last minute nerves about “being on tv” as we made the drive over but she was less intimidated when she realized the set up was slightly more simplistic than being on a stage with tons of people watching as she had envisioned. Both girls rocked it and, just that that, we chalked up our most exciting activity all week. 🤣

Because my morning was mostly absorbed by therapy, I didn't get my writing time along with the kids so I'm typing this on my phone while we enjoy the sunshine at a park downtown Seattle. The streets are literally deserted. Every parking spot is open. I questioned whether I even needed to pay for parking. Were the ticketers even working? Is this quarantine business technically considered a "holiday" in the eyes of parking attendants?

Jack waited until he thought I wasn't looking and quietly climbed up the very high play structure and went down the slide that has always terrified him. Perhaps he just needs to not have an audience when he conquers his fears. Afterward he asked if I would buy him Pokeman cards as a reward. We settled for ice cream cones "to support local businesses" instead. Mom win for sure.