Monday, 16 December 2013

Gamifying Literacy, take 2

It all started when I found this little thing at my local game store.

So my challenge was to build a board game around it. I wanted to make a game that was more complex than my last board game; involves some math (and ideally skip counting, since Sasha is working on that concept in class); incorporates strategy and not just probability; requires players to read, write, and move their bodies; and would provide a platform for players to become more familiar with sentence anatomy (nouns, verbs, and adjectives).

Here's what I came up with.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 23

"The teacher wasn't actually a bad teacher, just the class was misbehavinged."

"You know how I'm a barefoot walker?"

"I look like Santy because I have the same initials. I'm twins with Santa."

"Sometimes I like to see the smell, you know?"

"I wish my hair sticked up. If it was as long as Rapunzel's and it sticked up it could hit the ceiling!"

"I was such a grubber when I was a baby."

"I like to really mess up my hair."


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Twister with a twist

Sasha said she wanted to have our tutoring session at home this week. Usually we're in a cafe, which has its advantages (no toddler or dog or neighbor kid interruptions) and its disadvantages (limitations on resources, space, noise).

At home, Sasha got really excited about the idea of "making a game." After some initial blanking on how the game should work or what it should be about, Sasha realized we could adapt one of her existing games into a reading game. We perused the game closet and she picked Twister.

We selected a bunch of her flash card words to write on strips of masking tape. When I spun the spinner and called out the combination ("Left hand blue!") she had to read aloud the word on whichever circle she picked. (We also tried a version where I just called out a word and she had to hit it, but that was much more physically challenging.)

She's still working on discerning left and right. You can't see it in the picture, but she had me write a big R and L on her corresponding hands and feet to help her figure out which to use on each turn.

She had a great time with this game, and really took ownership over this project. One of the best things I can do as a tutor is to recognize and support opportunities for Sasha to be her own teacher, to tap into her own ingenuity and resourcefulness in meaningful, fun ways.

High fives,

Monday, 2 December 2013


I love documentation. My very favorite places on the internet are "mommyblogs" with really good photography and thoughtful writing. I also really like blogs that supply good ideas and tutorials for play-based learning activities. One of the things I'm most excited about for my impending teaching career is the opportunity to document children's learning. The whole reason I keep this blog is to record my experiences with kids. And even here, where I'm limited by the "not my kids, don't have photo release forms" factors, I still tend heavily toward including images when I can, whether it's pictures of the kids or of our activities.

I just finished my first couple of weeks subbing at Escuela, and even though documentation is not in my job description as a sub, at El's encouragement I've been reveling in the opportunity to snap pictures of the kids at play.

El already took the Documentation class in our grad program (I'll take it in a few months), and she's given me some really great advice for taking good photos of kids:

1. Fully engaged. Try to capture moments when kids are fully engaged in what they are doing. Often, kids won't be smiling in these pictures. They are learning, they are interacting, they are creating.
2. Story. Select pictures that tell a story without needing a caption for context.
3. Kid level. Get down at kid level. Seriously. Pictures taken at the level of children's faces have the effect of making you feel like you're right there in the kid's world, while pictures taken from above (adult level) looking down on kids feel remote and disconnected. Plus, you miss a lot of kids' facial expressions when you're mostly looking at the tops of their heads!
4. Tight shots. Practice taking pictures with tight framing. You often don't need to see a whole kid -- or even a whole face -- to understand the story of what's happening. To some degree, this can be accomplished by cropping photos you've already taken. 
5. Alternate sides. Look for moments that show a different side of a kid than you usually notice, such as a quiet kid yelling, or a high energy kid cuddling calmly with stuffed animals. Capturing these moments will help you keep the whole kid in mind, rather than letting their more dominant characteristics define who they are when you are engaging with them.

With these points in mind, I can already see improvements in the pictures I've been taking of the kids at Escuela, and I've only been at it for two weeks!

So far, most of the pictures I've taken have been on a cell phone or on my crappy point-and-shoot camera. But coupled with my upsurge of enthusiasm for taking good photos of kids is my renewed enthusiasm to learn how to properly use my fancypants dSLR camera. One of my friends who's something of an amateur professional photographer is trying, yet again, to give me camera lessons so I can progress beyond Automatic mode.

I'm very excited for where I can go with my documentation skills.


Friday, 22 November 2013

gamifying literacy

Every week when planning Sasha's literacy tutoring session, I invariably trawl Pinterest for ideas before I do anything else. And invariably, I throw up my hands in frustration and end up doing my own thing. Because most of the "literacy" or "reading" pins in the Kids category aren't innovative games, or sensory-related writing activities, or anything that sounds like it would actually be fun -- just worksheets. I never want to see the word "printables" again, ugh. And this time of year, a lot of the available worksheets aren't just unimaginative, they're racist too. Double ugh.

So this week I did what I usually do when Pinterest serves as anti-inspiration: I made my own activities.

Sasha, like most human beings, enjoys games. Our usual flashcard matching games have gone a bit stale, so I made a new game. A board game. With dice and cards and everything.

This game is super simple. Roll the dice, move your piece (dinosaur toys, since I've got a bit of a collection going), do what it says on the space you land on. I made three stacks of cards: one stack of sight words Sasha is still working on, one stack of sight words Sasha has already mastered (the ones with smiley face stickers), and one stack of sentence cards. The sentences are all derived from or related to the books I've read aloud to Sasha over the course of the last year (Harry Potter #1-3, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Dealing with Dragons, and Holes). The game takes about 10-15 minutes from start to finish to play, and it took me about 45 minutes to make (including writing all of the sentence cards -- I already had the two piles of sight word cards from our previous tutoring sessions).

Here's the gameboard.

Sasha loved the game. As soon as we finished she asked to play it again. Three times in a row. The element of chance provided by rolling dice and the goal of progressing along the path from start to end helped to alleviate the "chore" feeling that can come with reading flashcards and random sentences.

Sasha asked me what the game was called, and when I admitted that I hadn't named it, she got out our markers and dubbed it "run to the end." She especially liked the "whirlpool" spaces, and would enthusiastically spin her dinosaur around and around before tipping it over from "getting dizzy" when she landed on one. She even suggested, after the third consecutive game, that we start keeping a tally of how many times we each won.

This game will definitely be making a reappearance at future tutoring sessions.

High fives,

homemade preschooler gifts, take 2

My cousin's kid just turned three, so rather than buy him a gift this year, I made him one! I try to create handmade gifts when I can. This one was super easy.

The little bag was just a piece of scrap fabric sewn (shoddily) in about ten minutes, with a bit of extra ribbon threaded through the top seam so that it cinches closed. The card is just a magazine photo gluesticked onto cardstock.

Unsurprisingly, the kid's favorite gift out of allllll of the puzzles, books, clothes, and toys he got was this little bag. Not the stuff in it, just the bag. "My purse!" he shrieked, slinging it over his shoulder and galloping off, leaving behind a wreckage of wrapping paper and much fancier gifts.

Here's what was in the bag:

Magazine photos glued onto wide popsicle sticks make a fun puzzle for little hands.

For double the fun, include a second "puzzle" on the back!

These are super fast and easy to make. Here's the tutorial I used. When the images start peeling off, you just glue 'em back down again. Maybe modgepodge them for extra durability if they get a lot of use. I'm not that dedicated.


Thursday, 7 November 2013


An amazing thing happened today: Sasha interrupted as I began to read aloud to say, "Stop! I want to read it!"

Take a moment to process that. Let your color wheel spin.

This is the same kid who, a month and a half ago, balked at any invitation, request, or requirement to read aloud. Even words she was familiar with, even books she's muddled through dozens of times, even favorite stories. Even everything I custom wrote for her. Regardless of if they appealed to her sense of humor or her current interests. This kid did not want to read. It was hard and she didn't see the point of it.

I've been gone for just over a month, and I come back and she is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when I left. In terms of reading and writing ability, but also in terms of the stuff that's harder to measure: initiative, and confidence, and persistence. Sure, she's still way below grade level, but that doesn't matter. She's reading and writing because she wants to. She's keeping a journal. She's writing fluent sentences with best-guess spelling. She's trying new words when we play Hangman. She's checking library books out that are right at her "growth" level, and she is reading them.

I am so proud of this kid.

High fives,

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

the return

HB and I are back from our bicycle tour! It was just the right amount of time -- I'm happy to be home, with lots of ideas about homemaking and art projects and gardening plans and kitchen endeavors.

I kept an illustrated travelogue throughout the duration of the trip, so I have a LOT of work ahead of me to finish it. "Finish it" means finalize my (often very rough) sketches, ink over 30 pages, scan and post-process everything, and then figure out how to publish the thing. Bottom rung would be a zine-style production with all of the pages photocopied and stapled together, but I'm hoping for something a little slicker, which will involve research and potentially pitching the project to a publisher? (Related: some of my work has been published in an anthology! One of my friends across the country saw my art on the cover of the book in a bookstore, called me in a panic midway through our bike trip, and, after being assured that the authors did indeed have permission to use my work, bought the book and mailed it to me as a birthday present. What a pal.)

I've missed Ezra and Sasha, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again in about a week. And, if all goes well, HB and I will probably be trick-or-treating with Jaden like we did last year, if I can pull together costumes for us in the next 24 hours.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

looking forward

It turns out I'm an introvert in disguise. For my whole life I've thought I was an extrovert, but nope, wrong. I'm chatty and exciteable and socially adept but I default to quiet solo activities when given the choice. I don't actually prioritize spending time with friends; I practically have to be dragged to social events. HB has been pushing me to get out of the apartment a little bit for my own good. Last week one of my favorite classmates in my grad program, El, invited a few of us to her home, and so I sternly told myself I couldn't skip it.

And so, ensconced in wicker chairs on El's deep southern-style porch, we discussed teaching philosophies, our grad program, and personal growth. All three of them are full-time employed in preschools; I'm minimally employed, flitting between babysitting and tutoring shifts, and spending the rest of my ample free time preparing for the month-long bicycle tour HB and I are planning and working on a few art/zine projects. El just started a job at Escuela, a bilingual preschool in our neighborhood, which incidentally is the preschool that Ezra just started attending. Two of my other favorite classmates also work there, one as the assistant director. All of them have been encouraging me to apply for a substitute position at Escuela for months and months.

So this week, at El's invitation, I did a two hour visit to Escuela.

I loved it.

I don't have a whole lot to compare it to, since my preschool teaching experience is limited to the three summers I spent between college terms working as an assistant/sub/floater teacher at the large, primary-colored, corporate preschool in my parents' very affluent, suburban neighborhood. My impression of that school can be summed up with "loved the kids, hated the rest of it."

Escuela felt completely different. There were no arbitrary rules, and the kids were not only permitted to explore their ideas but given the space and time to really dig deep into their projects. Transitions were gradual and followed a fluid rhythm rather than a rigid schedule, so that part of El's class was outside while four of them remained inside with their other teacher for an extra 20 minutes working on their project (tearing up leaves and petals on a light table and making "ice cream and sandwiches" with them) until they were ready to head outside. Collaboration and conflict resolution arose organically and without teacher intervention. Most of the classrooms were open so that kids could float between them instead of being locked into their own room with their own age group. And, small but important, they have a garden that the kids accessed during their outdoor play, picking and eating the produce they had been growing.

After my visit, I stopped in at the office and chatted with the assistant director (also one of my favorite classmates) about applying for the sub position. She's setting me up with the paperwork, and if all goes well, I should be starting at the beginning of November, when HB and I get back from our big trip. The sub position is a good way for me to feel it out, decide if it seems like a great long-term fit or whether I should continue looking at the other preschools on my "preschool crushes" list.

Ezra's parents are very excited that I'm applying there -- Ezra's dad keeps saying he'll tell the director to hire me and give me a raise right away, which is very sweet but a little overbearing.

I'm really looking forward to it.

High fives,

Friday, 6 September 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 22

"I saw a honeybee with its pockets full of pollen."

Sasha referred to her mom's stainless steel to-go coffee mug, which Sasha was using for a smoothie, as a "metal water bottle"

On the (humid) weather: "It's really sweaty today."

While playing: "Even dinosaur friends eat each other." And, shortly thereafter: "Now you're a t-rex zombie!"

Sasha was pretending her dog was a horse she was training, but felt she needed more dogs (to be more horses). I suggested she be a dog, and she said with a tone of great incredulity, "Me, be a dog? I'd rather be a high-ho farmer" -- without a shred of irony.

As an airplane rumbles by outside: "Shut up, cloud!"


Monday, 2 September 2013

Reading with Sasha

Since summer started, I've been tutoring Sasha once a week in literacy skills. Girl will happily sit and listen to me read aloud for literally as long as my voice holds out -- which is several hours, by the way -- but ask her to sound out the simplest word in the title of the next chapter and she completely shuts down. I've really been digging deep into my creative well to come up with unorthodox reading and writing activities for her to try during our tutoring sessions, all centered around specific sets of vowel sounds introduced sequentially.

We've done lots of reading and writing that engage different senses, as well as games like Hangman, Bananagrams, and match-the-flashcard-to-the-spoken-word.

writing in sand with a chopstick; we've also done fingers and feet

writing on felt with yarn segments

yes, that is a playdoh sculpture of the sea

  ...but she still fights it the entire two hours set aside for tutoring. She likes this stuff better than simply laboriously sounding out skull-numbingly dull Bob books for the frillionth time, but she'd still much rather be doing almost anything else. She stalls, she whines, she bargains, she toys with anything not bolted down, she literally lays down on the floor and covers her face. Coaxing her to read is a monumental act of patience and persistence.

I did some research on it several months back and I'm fairly certain the kid has dyslexia. She's got just about every symptom on the books. I was all jazzed to teach myself how to be a dyslexia-specific tutor for Sasha, but when I brought it up with her parents, they noncommittally shrugged and said that their "instincts say she's just on a slower path." I talked with Sasha's first grade teacher at the end of the school year and he agreed she was showing some signs of dyslexia. He asked me to encourage her parents to get her tested so that, if needed, she could get an IEP (individualized education program) for second grade. Unsurprisingly, they decided not to test her. They prefered to wait it out, see how regular tutoring went, maybe reevaluate sometime in the unspecified future.

Well, here we are at the end of summer, and she's made a little progress, but not a whole lot. She still balks at any opportunity to develop her literacy skills. Even when we're engaged in imaginative play and an opportunity arises for low-pressure writing -- such as writing tickets and placards for our "art gallery" -- she'll almost certainly decide we don't need to do that part even when it was her idea to begin with, or she'll opt for scribble writing. (Scribble writing is an important pre-literacy "representational thinking" skill, but typically kids start incorporating actual letters once they begin developing phonemic awareness around age 3 or 4.)

a classic example of Sasha's scribble writing
 The thing is, I'm not equipped to tutor her if she has a learning disability unless I get specific training for it. And if her parents don't want to explore that possibility, I'm kind of stuck. So, with the start of second grade looming, I plunged back into googling things like "my 7-year-old hates reading" and sifting through the resulting avalanche of parenting forum advice.

Through parent recommendations, I found an online program that looks like it might be a good fit for Sasha -- very short daily lessons, game-based, lots of actual rewards mailed to your actual door, funny characters, British accents. And designed with dyslexia in mind, but not exclusively marketed that way. It's got a complete moneyback guarantee at any time, and stellar reviews. So I mentioned it to Sasha's parents.

And they seem willing to try it out!

I'm really relieved, because I've felt like the burden of teaching Sasha how to read and write has fallen squarely on me, but unless she gets instruction tailored to kids with dyslexia (or whatever cognitive challenge she's got going on), she just won't make much progress. This online program could be the solution.

All this has made me reflect on how I intend to parent my own potential future children. I do hope that I'll be the kind of parent who, when someone close to my child says, "hey I think your kid has a learning disability," that I will take it seriously, do the research to see if it seems likely, and try to address it appropriately as early as is reasonable. I hope I don't instantly dismiss it.

I hope this online program turns out to be the Thing That Works, and that someday Sasha will enjoy reading as much as she enjoys being read to.

High fives,

Saturday, 24 August 2013

the best big sister

Sasha is such an awesome big sister to Ezra. I love watching their relationship development as Ezra gets more and more capable of participating in Sasha's play.


Thursday, 22 August 2013


This summer I'm babysitting Jaden for a few hours a week, and he has become my official test subject for science activities for four-year-olds. I've been getting all these great ideas for preschool science from my Young Child as Scientist grad school course, and from good ol' Pinterest, but since I'm not based out of a classroom, I haven't really had an outlet for my kid science excitement. (Most activities I get stoked about -- and can realistically carry out in someone else's home -- are a little too juvenile for Sasha's sophisticated tastes.) So I got Jaden's parents' permission to experiment on their kid.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

summer toddler

Ezra loves scooping and dumping sand. We find little heaps of sand all over the yard, as well as buckets and bowls lovingly half-filled with sand or gravel, all Ezra's doing. His mom calls it his "jobs."

I have mentioned Ezra's love of doing "jobs" in the past; lately he is very insistent that he be the one to walk the dog. This is the compromise. 

 This week Ezra made a friend at the park. They were within a month of each other's age, and spent a good 15 minutes haltingly passing handfuls of barkchips back and forth (and to me and the other kid's grandma). It was very cute.

Ezra has graduated from high chair to table. He is very adamant about it. And he's eating balanced meals, unlike his carbohydrates-only sister.

And we've been playing in the water on really hot days! Ezra is not a fan of the sprinkler or being in the kiddie pool, but he likes playing with Sasha (and her friends) and dropping things in the water.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

grooming the nerdling

For Sasha's birthday (in April) I made her a Hagrid card because she especially likes when I read in my Hagrid voice. When you open the card it has a drawing of the slightly squashed birthday cake Hagrid made for Harry's 11th birthday. Things in Hagrid's pockets (all things he actually has in his pockets in the books): newspaper, coins, string, dog biscuits (actually cat food because it's smaller), keys, a letter for Harry, his magic pink umbrella, slug pellets, and a wooden flute. It would have been even better if I'd found tiny metal key charms and a drink umbrella, but other than that this was pretty much what I envisioned.

Anyway, I just found these pictures on my phone and thought I'd share, several months late.

High fives,

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 21

"Pretty much everyone in my family is a vampire zombie by now."

"My mom is a cleaner-beaner. I don't really know what that means."

"Art is French." (it turns out she was making a generalization based on the beret-wearing artist trope)

"I'm too old for regular parks, I just like amusement parks now."

And a mini edition of Jaden Says (I'm babysitting him once a week now):

"I wished for love and I got a mermaid!"

High fives,

Saturday, 13 July 2013

tough stuff

Sasha had a big crash on her bicycle recently. Fractured her wrist, knocked her teeth around, bloodied up her knees. I babysat her the evening after the big event (but before she got her wrist cast) and, perhaps following my lead, she was totally nonchalant about the whole thing. I think after her dad's fussing, her mom's hovering, and a host of medical professionals doling out pitying "poor baby"s, she just needed someone to see her in all her injured glory splayed out on the couch during a summer heat wave and just shrug and say, "bodies are good at healing."

"Yeah," she said, touching a lip swollen to four times its usual size. "My mouth is already feeling better. I can probably eat hard things tomorrow. I'm gonna save this cookie for breakfast."

And, shortly thereafter: "I hope my bike is okay -- I haven't even checked on it!"

She is going to be just fine.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

making it work

Athena has been working very hard on mastering a new skill: buckling. She doesn't have the grip strength to unfasten the buckles yet, but with concentration and some serious dexterity development, she can buckle both sides of her high chair. Buckling, over and over again, is one of her favorite activities right now. She will do it, uninterrupted, for half an hour at a time, several times a day.

I have loved watching her learning process with this task. Once she mastered buckling one side (with huge proud smiles and jubilant kicking), she tried to apply the identical technique (without mirroring it) to the other side and discovered she needed to adjust her approach in order to succeed. For awhile she preferred to just buckle the right side, since she had aced it, and tended to either ignore the left side or get frustrated after a few attempts and fling the straps away. She persisted and practiced and now she can and does buckle both sides, repeatedly, with more and more fluidity each time.

This term I'm in an online-only (eep!) course called Young Child as Scientist, based on the constructivist theory that children are naturally theory-builders who formulate questions and conduct experiments to test their hypotheses. I very clearly see this methodology at play in Athena's work to solve the "how do I make the buckles fit together" problem.

In related news, grad school continues to totally rock.

High fives,

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

getting a move on

We are mostly moved into our new apartment -- or at least, it is more and more resembling a liveable space and less a precarious cardboard maze.

We did a bunch of the move by bicycle.

I hauled flattened boxes generously donated by Sasha & Ezra's parents
For about three weeks, we spent our days off packing boxes, labeling boxes, and pedaling boxes the mile and a half to our apartment. Or just roping random pieces of furniture together in bike trailers and pedaling the load slowly over potholes and train tracks.

we borrowed this awesome trailer a couple times from the bike shop where HB works

For me, moving by bike wasn't so much about badassery or green energy or being a hot alternative hipster mess; it was mostly just the practical solution to wanting to move stuff during our month of double occupancy, when we don't own a car.

We did rent a u-haul for the stuff we just didn't have the equipment to safely move by bike -- couches, mattresses, that sort of thing. With help from my parents and our favorite housemate RK, we spent all of Saturday driving the u-haul back and forth and getting stuck waiting for literally every train that chugged through the city that day. (We moved RK's stuff too, to her new apartment.)

The best thing about our new apartment is the location. It's walking distance from a weekend farmer's market, a daily produce stand, our favorite bakery, our favorite brunch place, a good pizza place, a community garden (which has a 3+ year wait for a plot, dammit), and the park that hosts our city's chapter of Food Not Bombs. Our apartment is also just a few blocks from the apartment where RK and our other favorite former housemate E will be living! We had hoped for a close proximity but hadn't prioritized it at all; we just got really lucky.

we took a picnic dinner to the park last night to watch the clouds at dusk
Our apartment has some other good features, like front steps for my ambitious tomato container garden, a gas stove (which we have to light with a lighter half the time?) and enough space in the living room for me to cram both my desk and my drafting table into a corner. And a bathroom we're not sharing between five people, and a kitchen that will stay clean when we clean it, and windows that are less than a century old.

It has some weird built-in-the-1920s oddities too, like a bathroom sink with separate taps for cold and hot water, and a door in the bedroom closet that leads not to Narnia but to the toilet, and approximately three electrical outlets in the whole damn place, but it has charm, you know?

We took around freshly baked cookies to introduce ourselves to all our neighbors last night because we are those people. So far everyone's really friendly but a lot of them smoke cigarettes on their porches, which is frustrating because it's technically a non-smoking property and I'm a sensitive and delicate butterfly. One apartment has kids (!), one has a hilariously bug-eyed chihuahua named Nibbler, and one was so full of pot smoke that I'm pretty sure my hair still smells like it after the sixty seconds it took to hand cookies through the doorway to the extremely delighted occupants.

Stay tuned as we continue trying to adult.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

cycle challenge

The family that HB used to nanny for organizes a regular group bike ride for kids in our city. This time around, I asked Sasha if she wanted to do the ride with me. Did she ever!

Sasha tends toward sedentary. She prefers tv programs to parks, read alouds to running around. But at the same time, she completely idolizes me and my bicycling ways. She often says that she wants to be just like me when she grows up, "not owning a car, and riding my bike everywhere." Recently the hero-worship has won over the discomfort of physical activity. Just in the last few weeks, she's taught herself to ride her bike without training wheels, without much formal assistance or even much encouragement. She just decided she wanted to do it, and practiced and practiced after school every day until she got it down.

So with her training wheels off, the seat raised, wheels refilled, and bicycle frame lovingly buffed, Sasha, HB and I joined the group bike ride for kids!

Sasha did fantastic. She totally challenged herself in areas she has previously been hesitant to explore: riding up and down surfaces that are not perfectly level without getting off and walking her bike, riding on streets where cars travel and not just the sidewalk in front of her house, riding in a relatively straight line (important when you're in a big group!), and riding for longer than 20 minutes at a time (admittedly with very long breaks in the middle for kids to buy treats at the cupcake and ice cream shops along the ride).

Since the ride, she tells me that all she wants to do is ride her bike.

My job here is done.

High fives,

Monday, 10 June 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 20

Sasha introduced me to one of her friends using their teacher's nickname for the kid, "Clofish" (rhymes with blowfish) instead of her actual name, which is Chloe

"Let's be vampires. And spies."

"Princesses are my worst enemy!"

"Parents always say yes to playdates."

"There are a lot of nutcases here!" (It turns out she was referring to a helmet brand that lots of people were wearing on the group bike ride for kids)

"I'm feeling very unpatient."

"There are two kinds of petrified. One is like petrified wood, and the other is like in Harry Potter." (Characters in Harry Potter #2 are immobilized by a marauding basilisk)


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Athena does the park

We've had a few hot, sunny days this week, so I've packed Athena into the stroller for a few glorious two-hour stints at the park. Often when I've brought her to the park in the past she'll spend the majority of the time just standing and staring at the other people there. Or sitting and staring. Or holding onto my leg and staring.

But with these longer park dates, she spends the first half hour in observation mode, then she starts to explore the play structures. She likes the baby swings and climbing the stairs to slide down the toddler slides. She has been a fan of bark chips for weeks, but now she has discovered daisies too.

And she's starting to interact with the other kids! Today, Athena and this two-year-old named Violet took a shine to each other, and followed each other around the playground babbling. Violet kept saying "Baby!" and gently hugging Athena. It was adorable.

I can tell that she likes the park because when it's time to go, she screams bloody murder as I strap her into her stroller. (Waving "bye bye" to the park seems to decrease transition-time shrieking.)
High fives,

Friday, 31 May 2013

charcoal art

One day I came outside to find this scrawled in charcoal from the backyard firepit on the concrete by Sasha's garage. (Ezra's name is the last one on the list.) Precious.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

goofy foot

Ezra's favorite way to sit in his high chair is with one foot -- his left foot, specifically -- wedged up against the edge of the tray. Goofy kid.

High fives,

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Sasha is on a clover kick; whenever we're outside, she's hunting for four leaf clovers. (We've found six so far, in one specific patch in her front yard.)

Because I'm nothing if not an opportunist, I latched onto her casual interest to goad her into some biology-related inquiry and scientific investigation. We compared and contrasted the different types of clover we found, examining everything from leaf color and size to stem shape. We counted leaves, looked at spines and veins, and speculated about the evolutionary history of each kind. Sasha even nibbled on all of them to see if any tasted as good as the sorrel (which looks like a giant clover; it's the big one in the picture) does. Now on our walks home from school, she regularly stoops down to pick some sorrel from the neighbor's abundant flower bed, and chews it for rest of the walk.


Saturday, 25 May 2013

life update (transitions, pt. 2)

We have a lot of exciting transitions happening in the next few months. Let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up.

Moving to an apartment with HB; major reduction in hours with Sasha & Ezra, ending care with Athena; starting regular hours with Jaden; working on a graphic novel; taking weird summer intensives at grad school; traveling in the fall; starting regular preschool teaching (hopefully) between November and January.

Okay, but here's the long version.


Ezra is starting to assert some opinions about what he wears, and tries to put on some of his clothes himself. Mainly socks, shoes, and hats, and by "tries to put on" I mean he sort of jams them up against the appropriate body part. But still! Progress! Emerging personality!

This week he was insistent that he wear this ridiculous pink and red striped monstrosity on his head. It is either a froufy costume bag, or possibly his sister's hat -- I'm not sure which.

I think he rocked it.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 19

on fashion: "You dress very... arty. Like Nicki [Minaj] but not so crazy."

on femininity: "I'm not really a 'girl' girl."

on modesty: "Sometimes I feel kinda sorry for animals because they can't cover their privates."

on whether she plans to attend college: "I will just go for lunch and recess."

after I'd spent an hour reading one of the scarier chapters of Harry Potter 3 aloud while Ezra and Sasha played around the play structure outside, Ezra picked up the book and Sasha says, "Don't look at that, Ezra! It will give you nightmares!"

"We used to have an ant farm in the bathroom. I don't know why; we don't eat in there."

"I'm a secret fairy. (I'm not really.)"

"My dad is a little..." she leans in and whispers like it's a naughty word: "...funky."

High fives,

Sunday, 28 April 2013

made for walkin'

Ezra has finally, finally started walking for real. Athena went from zero to walking in like three days, but Ezra took his own sweet time, and wanted a lot of practice before making the switch from primarily crawling to primarily walking. He's been using rolling toys, dining room chairs, and big people fingers for like, two months. For about three weeks he's been (adorably) walking a few steps unassisted between one encouraging person and another, then collapsing joyfully into their outstretched arms. Just this week he finally decided he could take more than three steps at a time by himself, without coaxing, and go just about anywhere he pleases. He is thrilled with himself.

On one of our sunny days this week, I stripped Ezra down to just a t-shirt, initially thinking he might like a chance to air out somewhere it didn't matter if he took a wee on his own feet. It turned out he hated the feeling of the grass on his bare bum, so anytime he fell down he immediately popped back up, usually with an offended shriek. I left him pantsless for two hours, and he spent the entire time wobbling around the backyard, and occasionally trying to climb things.

My grad school program is based out of the Reggio Emilia approach to preschool education. One of the major tenants of Reggio is trusting children to take risks and allowing them to feel the power of their own bodies. Before thinking about it this way, I think I would have been much more likely to just block kids' access to potentially risky objects, or physically move the kid to the end point instead of letting them go through the process of trying their own bodies at something they're not quite yet capable of reliably doing without assistance. For example, Ezra wanted to look out his bedroom window but it's above his eye level. Rather than just ignore his pointing or hold him up to see out, I moved a step stool against the wall under his window and gave him the space to try it on his own. And then rather than just setting him on the top step, I guided him verbally and physically to climb the stairs himself. Soon I shifted to just verbal encouragement, and hovered my hands near him to catch him if he slipped, and let him do the whole thing on his own. He is so proud of himself going up and down those steps!

yes, he does have his hair in a gaudy flowered ponytail, the day before his mom took him in for a "boy" haircut

Similarly, Sasha's play structure in the backyard has a wide ladder on one side leading up to a platform five feet above the ground. I used to just lift Ezra to the top platform and sit up there with him, but now I help him move his hands and feet to pull himself up the ladder, which is a little too large for him to do on his own, but possible for him to do with assistance. This reminds me of scaffolding, which is a theory of learning that comes out of social constructivism -- that kids "scaffold" their knowledge when they push themselves to do things at the edge of their ability level that others around them can already do. Grad school has practical life applications!


Friday, 26 April 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 18

Several minutes after finishing opening her four or five birthday presents: "Okay Mom, I'm feeling very excited now. Could you go wrap another present and bring it to me now?"

On what would happen if a person was struck by lightning: "They wouldn't die, they'd be okay. They'd just like have electricity in their lungs, and go to the hospital."

On the walk home from school we see a broken plastic cup, I suggest Sasha pick it up so we can recycle it when we get home. She picks it up with a flourish and says, "I'm Super Muscle Trash Girl!"

Less than a minute later we pass a tissue on the sidewalk, and I say "Go Super Muscle Trash Girl!"
Wearily, she says, "Sometimes I wish I wasn't Super Muscle Trash Girl," as she retrieves the tissue and puts it in the stroller.

As we approach her house and Sasha catches sight of the landscaping guy's truck: "It's my love! He has a gold tooth and a great mustache. Don't tell him anything!" He's a mid-40s Latino man with silver fillings on his front teeth.

High fives,

Thursday, 25 April 2013

what it means to be a girl

Yesterday, when I picked Sasha up from her after school Spanish class, we were barely out the doors of the building when she confessed that Isaac had chased her down and kissed her ("twice!") on the cheek during recess. She shuddered, and explained that she did not like it because "he's gross; he wipes his boogers on the carpet!" She said she waited to tell me until we were out of the building because she didn't want lots of people to hear.

In that moment I heard so much of what it often means to be a girl in our culture. It means people you don't want touching you do touch you in ways you don't want, and then you feel like it's something you have to keep quiet. Because if you don't keep it quiet, if people know about it -- people will remember, it will keep touching you, it will mar you. It will shadow you and taint you in a way it never will for boys.

I know so many adults who would wave this off with a laugh. "It was just a kiss on the cheek," "oh, boys will be boys," "aw, he probably likes you," -- and that is all complete and utter bullshit. I don't care about the details of the kiss, I don't care if Isaac likes Sasha, and I certainly don't think boys should get a free pass for their actions on account of their sex. I don't even care that Isaac has behavioral challenges and some particular special needs -- he still needs to learn to respect other people's boundaries, it may just take more time and support for him to learn it than it would take other kids.

I want Sasha to know that her body is hers, and that she has an absolute right to determine, on her own terms, who has access to it, how, and when. That nobody has the right to touch her without her explicit consent. I want her to know that when these bodily rights are violated, she can and should speak up. I want her to know that there are people in her life that will have her back, that will believe her and support her, that will not belittle her experience or make excuses for the other person's behavior. I wish I could promise her that everyone in our culture would have her back, but she already knows through the subtle power of misogyny and rape culture that she is expected to just stay silent and take it, that making it public can make it worse.

So I told her, as briefly and firmly as I could, that what Isaac did was not okay, that if she doesn't want somebody to kiss her they need to respect that, and if they don't respect that then what they did is wrong.

She said she told her teacher right away, and it sounds like he gave her a similar soundbite and promised to talk to Isaac. I hope he does, and that he conveys to Isaac how inappropriate his actions were.

I wish every boy grew up being taught to respect girls' boundaries, to wait for permission instead of waiting to be stopped.