Nobody ever told me…

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Everyone knows about the terrible 2’s. But noone ever told me about the whiny 5’s/almost 6’s. A few weeks back it got really bad. Max seemed to just be really tired every day, and all out of sorts. We tried putting him to bed earlier, tried making him stay in instead of running around outside, nothing seemed to work. If he was inside he was miserable, if he was outside, he was miserable. If we told him he could have chocolate milk to drink, he would complain and say he wanted regular milk. If we offered him a bagel for breakfast, he wanted pancakes. We just couldn’t win.

Funny thing happened that Saturday at Max’s t-ball game. Several of the kids, seemed sleepy and cranky. A few didn’t even want to get out of the car. The coaches son had a melt down at first base, when the wind blew his hat off. His Mom told Rachel he had been like that all week. Crying at the drop of a hat, and generally moody. One of the other kids Mom’s said that her son had a field trip for school that week, and was so exhausted, he fell asleep at the dinner table after getting home. So I guess it’s just the age, and being tired from long days at school and trying to cram a whole bunch of fun in at night after school.

I expected Max to complain about his clothes when he was in middle school or high school, I didn’t expect it to start in Kindergarten. When we went back to school shopping, Max saw a pair of Nike high tops that he loved. They were kind of expensive, but being he really loved them, and we knew it would make him happy going to school in them, we bought them for him. They were a little hard to get on, so we told him on days when Nana got him ready for school, he couldn’t wear them. She has carpal tunnel syndrome and wrestling with his foot to get the high tops on hurt her hands and wrists. Of course he complained about that. Then as the weather started getting cooler, he insisted he wanted to wear shorts, even on morning when it was in the 40’s. Mean old dad made him wear pants, and of course if even one kid in his class had on shorts, he was sure to tell me. “Francis has on shorts today”. “Eddies daddy let him wear shorts to school”.

Then a few weeks ago, we had a week where it did nothing but rain. They had some really good sales going on at Carters, Oshkosh and Childrens Place, so it was a perfect day to go shopping. We picked up some fall clothes for Max. On the way out of Childrens Place, I saw a pair of canvas high tops. They kind of looked like Chuck Taylors, but they were Childrens Place brand. I showed them to Max, and when I asked if he liked them, he sort of shrugged and said “Yeah, they’re ok”. Well as soon as he tried them on at home, he loved them. He wanted to wear them everywhere we went. I think he would sleep in them if we let him. Suddenly his Nike hightops were no longer cool. All he wants to wear are his new high tops. Since he liked them so much, we ended up going back and we found two more pair on clearance. So now he has a pair to wear to school, one to play outside and one pair as a spare incase he rips them or something. Of course since they are high tops, they are still kind of tough to get on and off, so we never really solved that problem.

The last dilemma started this past weekend. On Thursday, Max ended up putting a whole in a pair of his new school pants. So before going to the park, Rachel made him put on a pair of old jeans that used to belong to his cousin Andrew. The one knee was already ripped, which initially made Max mad. He wondered why we wanted to put ripped pants on him. But after wearing them a few hours, he really started to like them. He asked to wear them again on Sunday. So Sunday night, he was crushed when Rachel and I told him he couldn’t wear ripped jeans to school. As soon as he got home on Monday, he asked to put on his ripped jeans. Spend money on nice new clothes, and all he wants to wear are ripped hand me downs from his cousin. Go figure.

Max has two days off next week, and a 3 day weekend the following week because of Veterans Day. Then after a full week of school, he has a half day the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Thursday and Friday off. Hopefully he will be able to get some extra sleep, recharge his batteries a bit and mellow out a little. We love him to pieces, but man this whiny stuff is driving us crazy!

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A week of learning…

This has turned out to be a week to learn new things. I didn’t really plan on it, it just sort of happened that way. Well one of the things I knew about ahead of time. It’s work related and boring, but I’m happy to be able to learn something new. The other items I’ve been trying to learn more about are more things of personal interest and self development.

On Monday I turned 40. For my birthday, Rachel and Max got me a new camera. At first, I told Rachel to just return it. I had a perfectly good working camera, so it seemed like a waste. Then I started reading about all the cool features it had, features that my old camera didn’t have. I got my other camera around Max’s 1st birthday so it’s about 5 years old. Doesn’t seem that old, but with technology, a whole changes in that span of time.

One of the biggest new features was the ability to shoot HD video with the camera. I’ve used other video cameras before, but using a DSLR to shoot video is a whole new adventure. much like with digital photography, taking the photo, or in this case the video is just the first step in a long process. With photos, you can tweak the white balance, color balance and saturation, crop, brighten, add contrast etc. You can do all those same things with video, and so much more. So I’ve been trying to teach myself how to use Final Cut Express. It’s a very powerful piece of software and it’s actually used by a lot of filmmakers. Probably a lot more powerful than I need, but it’s been fun learning. I’ve spent every spare minute reading, watching YouTube videos and practicing on my computer at home. As a kid, I was always fascinated with the whole film making process. A childhood friend of mine who’s parents had a camcorder opened my eyes to the world of video. We used to make silly little short films. Most silly stuff using toys and whatever other props we could find. I don’t have a lot of spare time right now like when I was a kid, but learning how to edit and properly process video will be nice to know, even if it’s just to edit home movies of Max.

The 2nd things I’ve been playing around with is Adobe Illustrator. I’ve had an idea for a kids book for a while. Before Max was born, I was really into Illustrator and creating little characters and scenes. Most of what I learned back then was forgotten, so I pretty much started from scratch. As I dove in, some of it came back, but the process has been slow. The learning process has been the same as with learning about my new camera and editing video. Lots of reading and watching YouTube tutorials.

The last thing is learning bass guitar. I’ve played regular 6 string guitar since high school. I was never really great, but I could play some cool riffs and play along with some of my favorite bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Metallica. I’ve always been fascinated with the bass guitar. To the untrained ear, it would seem like the electric guitar is the root and most prominent sound of a song. A lot of the time, it’s actually the bass guitar that is the driving force behind a song. Plus Paul was always my favorite Beatle and Gene Simmons was a childhood hero of mine, and they both play bass. So I treated myself an bought a bass off of Amazon. It’s a very barebones model that I found for $100. After all I’m not going to be playing Madison Square Garden or Wembley Stadium any time soon, so $100 model is fine. Fortunately the guitar interface I have for my computer works with the bass, so all I needed was the bass itself. I was surprised at how hard it was on my fingers. My fingers are kind of calloused from playing guitar, but the thicker strings on the bass seemed to really tear my fingers up. I was pleasantly surprised that all my years of playing guitar made me pick up the bass pretty quickly. In fact with only 4 strings and the strings being spaced out, I find it a lot easier to play than a regular guitar.

So I may not be the next Steven Spielberg, Eric Carl, or Bootsy Collins, but I’m having fun learning new things and being creative.

Modern Day Parent

Parenting these days seems a lot different than when I was a kid. Not to say that my parents and the other parents of our generation didn’t care, it just seems like parents these days are much more involved than our parents were. I guess the verdict is out on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I tend to think it’s good, but I’m sure there will be naysayers who say it creates co-dependency and we will have a generation that can’t function independently.

Maybe it’s because I was the youngest, and because there is a gap of 10 and 13 years between me and my two sisters, but there wasn’t a lot of one on one fun time with my parents when I was a kid. I don’t remember my Mom or Dad ever reading me bedtime stories, we only went on one family vacation together, and I don’t remember my Mom or Dad every sitting down to play with me like I do with Max. My Mom was always super serious. The one on one time her and I shared was usually doing homework and studying. It was usually not very fun. Again, maybe it was just the way things were back then, or maybe it was because my parents were both older in life when they had me.

My dad took me to the park, and I loved playing baseball with him and having him push me on the swings. But my dad was 51 when I was born. He would wake up at 4:30 to go to work, and was on his feet most of the day. So when he got home, a lot of the time, he just wanted to sit on the couch, smoke his pipe and watch Walter Cronkite. But he did try to find time to do things with me. But it was usually 1 or 2 nights a week. I had a lot more fun, one on one time with him then I ever did with my Mom. Don’t get me wrong, my mom’s helping me study was a huge plus, and it helped me a lot in school. It was just never fun. My mom wasn’t the type of person to dump out a pile of legos on the floor and say “lets build a castle”. We never sat at the kitchen table and colored in a coloring book together. When I fell and scraped my knee, she would clean the wound and put a band aid on my knee, but she wouldn’t kiss it to make it feel better. She would tell me I was acting too wild and to slow down. That’s just who she is.

Max and I play together all the time. We go to the park, we build forts out of blankets, we laugh together as we watch silly YouTube videos, we play catch in the front yard. I cherish all the time we have together. Thankfully, the company I work for encourages flex scheduling and telecommuting. So I’m able to work from home two days a week. On those days, I take Max to school in the morning and pick him up afterwards. We usually have about 2 hours together in the morning. And then when he gets home in the afternoon, we have about 90 minutes or so together, before Mom gets home. That one on one time is fantastic, and I enjoy it so much. Truly some of the best times of my life. Probably because I get to act like a kid again. But also because I get to watch Max grow and develop. Riding his bike without training wheels, climbing a tree all by himself, making it across the monkey bars without any help. All these little milestone in his life, that serve as a reminder of how much he’s grown and for how special these times are.

A few months back, Max asked why one of his cousins didn’t live at home with her mother and father any more. We explained that she was going to college and moved away so she could live on campus. Max looked sad and said “I never want to move out”. It made Rachel and I feel good that he is so happy and likes living with us so much. Of course, when he’s 18, he probably won’t feel exactly the same way, but for now, it gives us comfort.

VIP Week

This week in school (Oct 21 – 25), Max is his class MVP. Each week, the teacher selects a student as the VIP. That child must present the class with facts about themselves. It’s a good way for the students to learn about each other. Plus I think it makes the child who is selected feel special. So over the weekend Max had to work on his VIP poster. It asks him questions like what his favorite food is, what he wants to be when he grows up, and what his favorite color is. Max seemed to have fun putting the project together and I think it turned out pretty nice.

 

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Today, the VIP gets to bring in his or her favorite book. Since Max just lost a tooth, he chose to bring in “The night before the toothfairy”. Tomorrow he gets to bring in his favorite toy. He has to place the toy in a brown bag, and write down three clues so the class can try to guess what it is. Over the weekend he kept changing which toy he wanted to bring in. So it should be quite a task trying to get him to pick which one he wants to bring in.

Tonight is Max’s last tumbling class. We watched “American Ninja Warrior” together over the summer. And Max seemed to be jumping, climbing, flipping, and diving off of everything around him. So we figured a tumbling class would be a good way for him to use up all that energy, and hopefully since I don’t see him giving up on the climbing and flipping, at least he could learn how to do it safely. When we signed him up, the class said it was for boys and girls. Much to our surprise when we showed up for the first class, we discovered Max was the only boy. He was a little upset at first, but he had so much fun the first week, that he didn’t seem to mind much after that. Kind or torn about whether we want to sign Max up for a week night activity over the winter. We were thinking of perhaps doing some sort of Martial Arts class, but it makes for a hectic night when he has an activity at 6PM during the week. We have to rush to eat dinner, get him to class, then sit down to do his homework, get him showered, read him a book and get him to bed by 8. But he seems to enjoy the activity, and being around other kids. Plus with the sun setting earlier and earlier, and colder weather ahead, playing outside will become less and less frequent. Especially if we have the cold winter they are predicting. We’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision in the next few weeks.

Handwriting Progress

I’m amazed that after about 30 days of Kindergarden, Max is so much more willing to practice writing and seems to enjoy drawing and coloring a lot more. I always loved coloring and drawing as a kid. I was never great at drawing, but seeing my dad paint and create works of art using charcoal pencils, always gave me incentive to try. Sadly Max was never big on coloring or drawing. My niece Samantha loved to color when she was a kid, and I loved coloring with her. My sister always buys coloring books for Max, and sadly after coloring for a minute or two, he usually gets bored and puts the book and crayons away.

This seems to have changed dramatically the past few weeks since he started school. He sits at his little desk and practices writing his letters and drawing pictures. To encourage him to keep doing this, I bought him a new box of crayons, markers, colored pencils, construction paper and a writing note pad. He would get frustrated that his pencils, crayons and markers were in separate boxes, so I bought a plastic bin and just dumped all his new crayons, pencils and markers in there. This way he just opens one little bin and has access to all he needs.

I talked to my sister a few weeks back and told her how frustrated I was with getting Max to practice writing his letters. She said her youngest was the same way, and that after she was in school a while, her handwriting improved a lot and she was more interested in practicing. She was spot on. The same seems to have happened with Max.

This past weekends weather was gross, it rained just about the entire time, so we spent a lot of time inside. I read in a magazine that kids often enjoy writing their names in the dirt or in sand. I remember digging and writing with a stick in the dirt in front of my parents house when I was a kid. So on Saturday, after Max had been coloring for a while, I got out a cookie sheet, sprinkled some sugar in it and drew his name in it. He was instantly drawn to it, and started drawing little pictures and started spelling out short words he knew. Kept him occupied for well over an hour. I went upstairs to shower and came back down and was amazed to find him and Rachel still at the kitchen table playing in the sugar. The neatest part is, if you make a mistake, all you have to do is give a little shake and the sugar settles and you have a fresh workspace.

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And one final note, Max’s teacher sent home his interim report last week. Max got all CD’s which stands for consistently demonstrates. And his teacher noted that he was making friends, and he was very helpful to them and was good at working by himself when they were doing one on one time with individual students. Rachel and I were both very pleased. His classroom is divided into different activity centers. There is one for math,  reading, writing, science and one for art. Max seems to like exploring the activities they have each day at the different tables. Seems like a very effective way of keeping kids engaged. So glad he likes it at his new school.

Teach your children and you may learn something too…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about “Common Core” standards. These are standards that define what students should understand and be able to do at each grade level from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It also provides as a good checklist to make sure a child is ready for the next grade level. It’s a very interesting subject, and I’m endlessly fascinated and a little saddened by it.

Why am I saddened by it? Well, I think a lot of the preliminary skills are things that a child should already know, and learn at home. If parents took time to talk with their children, explain the world around them and answer the questions kids have, a lot of these concepts should be second nature and come naturally.

One of the things I’ve always been big on, is making Max learn things without him even realizing he’s learning. Like playing BINGO. It not only teaches a child their numbers from 1-75, but it also teaches kids plotting on a graph, a skill Max has been working on in school. Max played BINGO with his two older cousins and he loved it. Santa brought him own BINGO set for Christmas. The first week or two we played, he would call out the numbers like N three one instead of N thirty one. But after hearing me call the numbers out properly, in a few weeks time, he was doing it correctly all by himself. It doesn’t matter if he’s putting the little plastic dots down on the card or calling the numbers, there is an opportunity to learn. 

Another thing I love doing with Max is multi sensory activities. Things that require tactile interaction as well as sight and sound. Research shows that kids learn faster and easier when multiple senses are engaged at once. Something Max has been doing since he’s about 3 or 4 is counting and separating objects. You don’t need some fancy, expensive toy by Melissa and Doug or FAO Schwartz to do this sort of thing either. We used Fruit Loops. Yes, we’re monsters who feed our son sugary cereal. Anyway, grab a handful of Fruit Loops and put them on the table. Separate the red ones into a small pile. Then do the same with the blue and the green and the yellow and so on. This teaches them colors, counting, sorting and recognizing differences. Another concept that is one of the core standards for kindergarten. Once they see you do it a few times, they will want to try and before you know it, they’ll be doing it themselves and probably eating a few of the Fruit Loops along the way. A good way to teach subtraction :-).

I get the same sense of sadness when I see some of the kids on Max’s t-ball team. Week 1, no-one expects the kids to be Derek Jeter. Most of the kids don’t know how to hold the bat or ball the right way, and they may get confused about which base they run to after they hit. That is to be expected. What kills me is when I see a child who still doesn’t hold the bat correctly and who doesn’t know the basics of throwing the ball during the last game of the season. It means their parents didn’t spend any time reinforcing the basics. Sadly I think it’s just an hour a week where they can dump off their kids and make someone else take care of them. How hard is it to spend a few minutes a day tossing the ball around with your child? Or sitting down and watching a baseball game with them on TV to explain why the players are doing what they are doing. It’s really simple and a great way to bond with your son or daughter and have a shared interest.

Here are a few of the common core standards for Kindergarten that I think just about every child should know without much help from the teacher:

1) With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details. This is a really easy concept to practice with your child. Ask them how their day was and have them tell a story about what they did or what they saw.

2) With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story. This one is pretty simple tpp, and maybe my technique isn’t the textbook way of doing it, but I think it would work just fine. Let your child watch a show regularly. Disney and Nickelodeon have great kid friendly shows. Overtime they will learn the names and characteristics of each character. Then at the end of the show, ask them simple questions about what happened during the episode. Why was Teddy sad? What was Bob mad at Gabe? Where did Max and Ruby go on vacation?

3) ) Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book.
Sit down and read your child a book. Then ask them to draw a picture based on what the story was about. The artistic quality of the picture and whether they use pen, pencil, crayon, markers, etc isn’t important. What is important is just making sure that what they draw reflects what actually happened in the story. If there is a horse in the story and they draw the horse and color it blue, it doesn’t matter. As long as they identify the name of the horse and the significance of the character in the book.

4) Recognize and pronounce rhyming words. Three simple words Dr-Seuss Books! It doesn’t get much easier than that. Or just make up a silly rhyming song when you are shampooing their hair at night. 

5) Understand and use question words (interrogatives) (e.g., who, what, where, when, why, how). Again this is all about listening to your son or daughter. Kids are naturally curious. Don’t give them snippy answers like “Because!” or “It just is”. When they ask a question, actually answer the question and make the child feel comfortable to ask other questions. Remember the world around them is all very new to them. So things we take for granted can be quite fascinating. And hey you may even get stumped and have to look the answer up yourself. For example, last weekend we saw a blimp flying over our neighborhood. Max was very excited to see it and asked me and Rachel how does a blimp land since it doesn’t have wings or wheels like a plane. I honestly wasn’t sure how it landed, so I look up “How does a blimp land” into Google and sure enough there was video of the Goodyear Blimp landing. We watched it together and both learned something.

The same can be said for math. The chance to teach are all around you.

1) Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object. Go on a walk in the woods or in the park and have kids collect things that are wide, skinny, long, heavy and light. It gives them a sense of all the properties an object has. They may not know what volume, area and perimeter mean, but if they know the concepts about height, weight, depth etc, it will make things like figuring out area that much easier. When you are driving in the car, make up a little game and ask them things like “Which is taller, an elephant or a giraffe”. Which one is heavier? Name an animal that has fur. Name an animal that has a tail. Name an animal that lives on a farm. Hand them different items like a rock, an acorn, a leaf and a stick and ask them to describe each item. Is it heavy? Is it smooth? Is it rough? 

2) Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1). Get a couple of dice and have them them. If they roll 4 and 2, have them add the total up and ask them another way to make 6. Give them some coins and see how many different ways you can make a dollar using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

3) Solve addition and subtraction word problems, and add and subtract within 10, e.g., by using objects or drawings to represent the problem. Really easy, if they are eating Oreos give them 3 Oreos and after they eat one, ask them how many are left. That’s a word problem in it’s simplest form. If John has 3 cookies and eats one, how many are left?

I can go on and on, but I’d just be repeating myself. My point it, let kids be kids. Let them play, let them watch cartoons, let them be free to explore. But play doesn’t have to be mindless. Lessons can be learned. Think about what you are doing with your child and ask yourself is there is something that can be learned. There’s a very good chance there is.