Friday, January 20, 2012

Moving Out and Moving On

The gal that rented a room from us last month moved out. Turns out, she had no plans on being timely with her rent payments. Oh well... As we say in Russian, что не делается, все к лучшему or as we say in English, it's all for the best.

The best, in this case, is a whole bunch of things. For one, she wasn't that pleasant a roommate to begin with. Second is that her moving out without giving an advanced notice might had been financially disastrous a few months ago, but right now it's just a minor annoyance. Third, we finally have the house all to ourselves. This means being as noisy as we want whenever we want and using the downstairs bathroom (and that's the bathroom with a TON of storage space). Finally, the very best of all the bests of this situation is that the guest room is finally free and can be converted back to what it used to be - a place for guests to sleep comfortably (and for us to enjoy when we have the quiet time).

So we are moving on and I'm working on turning the room into the nicest guest bedroom south of the Mason-Dixon line. I already sold the ugly twin bed and moved a lovely day bed into the room. Plus I repainted the walls so it looks lovely. And I put up new curtains. Next up is a different table and some sort of bookshelves. I'm on a tight budget and so it will have to come from Craigslist or local thrift stores (plus I only have a very small car to bring things in, so it slows down the process considerably).

But I hope to finish most everything in the next month or so and that will include a spruced-up guest bath (although I'm claiming most of the storage space). So start planning your trip down here, y'all!

A Whole Lotta Nothing

And, at the same time, a bunch of everything. That's what comes to mind when someone asks me how's everything going. Of course, I say it loudly... in my head what with being polite and stuff. But seriously, it's just life as usual in a way. Lots of things to take care of that would be happening even if Chris wasn't deployed.

Homeschool is one. I'm trying to do 4 days a week, but sometimes it doesn't quite work out that way and we do only 3 days. And by 3 days I mean one hour each day, roughly. Sometimes it's a bit more, usually it's a bit less. Is it enough? Well, I checked M's skills against kindergarten readiness standards and he's doing just fine. The only thing he doesn't do well is rote counting to 20, but he can count objects to 15 by himself and to 20 with a bit of help. So I think we're ok for now. After all, he's not even 5 yet. On this picture he's putting together a story using Rory's Story Cubes (I love this game!).

Speaking of counting, he figured out (or maybe overheard somewhere) that if you have trouble falling asleep, you should count. So he counts: "one goat, two goats, three goats, four goats, five goats, six goats, eight goats, nine goats, ten goats. Now, one fish, two fish, four fish, three fish, four fish, five fish. Now, one Wall-E, two Wall-E, three Wall-E, four Wall-E, five Wall-E... five Wall-E plus one. It's five Wall-E and one Eve..." and on and on it goes with all the different objects he can think of being counted diligently to 5, 6 or 8. No wonder it takes him forever to fall asleep.

Another thing that keeps us busy is our weekly occupational and physical therapy sessions. These are working out great so far. M loves his therapists and always asks when is the next time he gets to play with them. And these sessions help. We've got a lot of work to do, but we are moving in the right direction. I get lots of ideas too for what we can do at home and try to incorporate 2-3 exercises into our homeschool time each day (like on the picture above - sensory play with shaving cream). Besides, watching M work during these sessions made me realize just how much effort he has to put into daily tasks that are nearly effortless to many kids his age (not to mention us, the adults). The little dude is working hard all day long even when it's just play.

Then there's my gym. (The picture is from M's work out at physical therapy though since I can't take pictures of me working out. They have these awesome toys and this swing set is just about his favorite). Did I mention that while Chris is away, I get a free family membership at our awesome YMCA? And our Y rocks! And their child care is awesome - lots of toys, lots of individual attention from the caregivers and not a single TV screen (there's a TV in the room for older kids and it's used only for Wii video games). Unfortunately, M and I don't see eye to eye on the kids room idea. And things have been getting progressively worse with how M reacts to separation. So it was either me not going at all or me taking him to my workouts. Except now I can't go to the weights area 'cause it's absolutely off-limits to kids.

So instead I go to cardio classes and yoga and such. M is almost always happy to tag along. Sometimes he tries to join in (yoga class, zumba and step), other times he plays with toys in the corner (toning, belly dancing). Either way, he behaves so well and is so darn cute, that we get lots of compliments from other people in the class and from the (very understanding and supportive) instructors. Plus he loves going to his own classes (where it's my turn to mostly sit in the corner) - kids zumba and kids yoga. His therapists are thrilled and boy, if one day athletes get points for the sheer enthusiasm and energy, he might zoom straight to the top.

All this happens before lunch! (Another picture from physical therapy). After lunch, I try to do some house work while M plays with his toys or watches some cartoons. He just finished watching all 150 or so episodes of the Russian cartoon "Smeshariki" which can be translated as "The Laughies" (not all at once, but over a period of about three months since he only watched 30 min or so each day). Now he's into another Russian cartoon, "Fixiki", but so far there are only 6 episodes available on YouTube. So he also watches the hilarious "Masha and the Bear" series.

As for the toys, M is heavily into rockets, robots and, unexpectedly, garbage trucks. Ever since I showed him a couple of YouTube videos about what happens at recycling plants and how landfills work, he is hooked. You know how intense he can be about things. So we got 10 or so non-fiction books about trash and recycling from the library. His favorite was "A Day in Life of a Garbage Truck Driver". Then he set up this game where he would operate a toy garbage truck, pick up trash and drive it to his Tri-County Landfill toy (Imaginext rules!), operated by his Toy Story 3 characters. On the picture: M built a ramp to help garbage truck get out of the "garage".

The best part is that he is eager to read as long as it's a part of this game set up. He actually asks me to write different words on pieces of paper which he reads and figures out whether to bring it to the landfill, to recycling plant or elsewhere. Love it!

All the while I try to clean, do laundry, take out the trash and compost, tidy up, re-arrange the furniture or, say, paint the walls. Something always comes up around here, like when, as on the picture, M decides to play fort inside the lazy susan and insists on having half of his toys with him. 

Then later in the afternoon we usually have friends over. While I drink tea and chat with N, M plays with her son who's a bit older and quite a lot taller than M. They think of themselves as best friends, but honestly, they spend as much time fighting and arguing as playing together. So some evenings playdates have to end earlier than others.

Then it's dinner time and off to bed for M. But not before some more work is done on one of his projects. For now it's usually this cardboard rocket. He drew control panels all over the inside of it. On this picture he's already in his PJs conducting an EVA (space-walk) to repair some minor meteor damage. Note how he's carefully tethered to the rocket so he wouldn't float away. Going to bed means I have to read him 2 stories. Lately we've been reading about Paddington Bear and all the stories in the book are very long. Takes a while to get through even one. And that's how I don't even come downstairs until after 9. Which means I don't get to start work until 9:30 or even 10 (if I still have dishes in the sink and the kitchen is a mess).

Next thing I know it's the weekend and then - another Monday. And that's how we roll for now. And the final picture is of M playing a game he invented and built. It's a Star Wars-themed game where Luke and Artoo get to trap and fight Vader by moving across the board in a rather aimless (to me, anyway) way. And when they do need to wait out, they have special hiding spots where Vader can't see them. That was the first game M came up with and I thought it was pretty cool.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Second Letterbox

Remember that post about the new New Year tradition and letterboxing? It was another gorgeous day here yesterday (Saturday) and I suggested going on another treasure hunt. M was pretty enthusiastic about it and this time around wanted to take both R2D2 and R5D4 droids with him. So I printed the instructions and we got to the park. This time it was the Veterans Freedom Park in Cary.

This particular box was both easier and harder to find. It was easier because he didn't have to cross dry creek beds or walk on trunks of fallen trees. The entire path was on a level surface just along the wood line's edge.
Yet it was more difficult because we had to look harder for clues. I wasn't even sure which one of the trees surrounded the open area was cedar. M also had to keep an eye out and notice things. Plus, unlike with the first box, he got to do some heavy lifting this time around since he had to pick up a couple of heavy-ish stones.

The reward was very sweet. We got not one, but two stamps! There was a "Moose on the Loose" guest stamp in the box along with the original stamp. Awesome! And, on the way back, M collected some more treasure to take home with us - a few stones, a piece of pine bark and a couple of cedar sprigs so that we remember what cedar looks like for the next adventure.

More Different Homeschooling

Our winter break is over and a new (calendar) year of homeschooling has begun. To be honest, with all the changes and travel of the last few months of 2011 I scaled down on hs somewhat. In fact, all I had left was math and reading. Everything else was totally unstructured and largely unplanned. It was fun, but I felt a bit frustrated and worried over the lack of accountability on my part.

Besides, as we found out, we have to spend A LOT more time doing physical and occupational therapy exercises daily and it's easier to include them into the flow of our homeschool schedule 'cause then I know they get done.

So I created a new schedule. It looks something like this:

Warm-up - both M's physical and occupational therapists suggested we start all our learning activities with warm-up exercises. Before he sits down at a desk, he needs to get some physical activity to help him focus and get oriented. Sample warm-ups include jumping jacks, pushing a box loaded with books, throwing bean bags at a target, picking yellow Lego pieces out of a corn and sunflower seed mix. Things like that. Oh, and also mazes, scissors practice, connect the dots, dot-dot worksheets, coloring and such.

Math - right now I'm concentrating on teaching M basic arithmetic in the first 10. Yes, still... Well, he does very well with adding and subtracting within the first 5. Then it gets tough. So we're trying a different strategy. He does well as long as he has manipulatives. But once those are removed, he is lost. And I really don't want him to use his fingers to count. So I'm using these lessons now and so far they are working. I try to include as many vision exercises into this as well (and it's the same with reading work), otherwise we simply won't have time to do it all. But I also try to include Moebius Noodles games into our lessons as much as possible. He really enjoys those since they are so different and are so much more game-like than his other work.

Speech - we are supposed to start working with a speech therapist. But for now, as we are looking for the one specializing in bilingual children, I try to do what I can. So we make funny faces and stick out our tongues a whole lot. Plus we learn to form and pronounce some of the trickier Russian words. So far so good. I got M Rory's Story Cubes for the holidays and he loves this game (I do too). He is much more willing to create and tell stories now (as opposed to retelling something he saw or heard in books and cartoons).

Reading - I'm taking it very-very slow here. M loves being read to, but is not too keen on reading. He still mixes up some of the letters, although he can read words up to 7-8 letters in length. The problem is that when he reads, he reads one letter at a time instead of the entire слог. It doesn't make much of a difference with short words, but with the longer ones, by the time he gets to the last letter, he forgets what he started with. Lots of guess work follows... Frustrating to both of us. So we are reviewing the letters and various combinations of vowels and consonants now.

Nature study - this doesn't happen every day. I try to at least discuss the calendar - today's date and day of the week, yesterday's day of the week, tomorrow's day of the week, etc. We also talk about the weather a lot. But anything other than that isn't something M is interested in. The exception is when we go on a treasure hunt and he picks up rocks and pine cones and sticks. He's getting more interested in rocks now too.
Science - I'm determined to try 1-2 science experiments each week, the messier, the better. Last week we made some yellow goop (I still see a bit of it on the kitchen walls) and color mixing.

Art - this must be the hardest of all since M avoids any kind of art/craft work. No pretty colors are allowed (these are for girls). So the most-used colors in our house are brown, green, orange, yellow and red. Sometimes dark blue is allowed. Art for the art's sake only works in theory around here. M sometimes talks about drawing a picture or doing a craft. But in the end, if it's not serving a very specific purpose related to robots, rockets, Star Wars or, lately, garbage trucks, he just say "not now" and that's the end of it. So I try to adapt. Last week we did what was supposed to be a design in foil and that, in our hands, turned out to be a radar.

Projects - these are any and all special projects that M feels he has to work on. One of the projects last week was the Star Wars cargo and troop carrier out of an egg carton (although, honestly, I did most of the hands-on work and M did all the planning and supervising). We also took apart an old toaster to check out what was inside.

In addition to all these activities, M has two therapy sessions each week, one for physical therapy and one - for occupational therapy. This keeps us plenty busy even without extracurricular activities :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter Break Galore

Even PreK homeschoolers need a break now and then. Ok, maybe not the little ones, but their parents for sure. I know, I do. So I decided that the last week before the New Year was going to be our winter break. Besides, there was so much going on and all M's friends were on winter break and available for daytime playdates...

Fortunately, we live where we live, in Raleigh. So we always have lots and lots of things to do. It's a great place for kids for sure! (Hint-hint: cousins, do come visit us with your little ones!)

Honestly, between getting ready for the New Year (meaning deep-cleaning the house), working out at the Y, having tea with my friend and playdates with M's friends, things are a bit of a blur now. But that's why I take pictures - for some near-term clarity in addition to long-term memories.

We went to the Natural History museum not once, not twice, but three times. Once we went to see Tornado Alley 3D movie (that's the picture of us in funny glasses). M was particularly impressed with all the tornado tracking vehicles 'cause they all had either big parabolic antennas or Doppler radars on them. Now every time we see a news van, he asks if it's a tornado hunter. The second time we went to the Discovery Room with a friend. And the third time we went to check out the Genghis Khan exhibit. M seemed very interested at first, then looked not at all interested except for a couple of instances. Yet later that day I heard him re-telling his experience to a friend:

"We went to see Genghis Khan at the museum. He was this ancient important person and a warrior. But not like a jedi. But he had a huge army like clone trooper army. They all lived in these round houses that they moved all the time. And they had swords. But bows and arrows were a lot more important too 'cause they could shoot far. And they wore these things, like metal shirts and that was so when an arrow hits it doesn't make a hole in the stomach. And they had catapults and these big things to shoot huge spears with."

The weather was warm enough and we went to playgrounds a few times. And when it wasn't all that nice outside, M played indoors with his best friend, George. Of course, there were also new toys to play with after each holiday.

M also explained his theory of everything to me (in Russian, but I'm translating for convenience): "I think, that  we and the Earth and the Sun and all the planets and comets and everything aren't real. I think they are toys and a little boy in another galaxy is playing with them."
And he came up with his first real rhyme (in Russian) while walking by a neighbor's house where they still had a big pumpkin by the door: "Страшные тыквы нам не страшны, А даже очень нам смешны".

Finally, on New Year's Eve we went to the Downtown to check out the big tree, the ice rink (it was too warm and the rink, while operating, was covered with a half-inch of water) and the big acorn that Raleigh, the City of Oaks, drops at midnight every New Year. So now M thinks that "Рали - город дубов" and "Когда опускают большой желудь и он касается земли, из него вылетает Новый год".

Our New New Year Tradition

I don't think making New Year resolutions is all that important (not to say I haven't made some this year). But what I think is important and way more fun is to try something new on the very first day of a new year. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or pre-planned. Nor does it have to be something you've been dying to try. That'd put too much pressure on you to succeed and make it just perfect (or maybe it's just me being obsessive about stuff). I'm just trying to say that it might be better to do something on January 1st that's totally a spur of the moment, something unplanned for yet fun.

Now, I'm speaking with all this confidence, but in fact I only tried what I'm preaching here just once, today. But since it worked out really-really well and I now have 100% success rate, I feel I can speak with much authority on the subject. What is the subject, by the way? Well, it's in the title - family traditions for the New Year.

Specifically, the one unexpected thing we tried today was... But hold on, first, let me mention that it was a beautiful day outside - sunny and warm, with light breeze, very spring-like... So M and I went to the nearby park. There, after getting tired of the "catch-the-meteorite" game, I suggested we dig for treasure in the sandbox. And while digging, M found a cast-out part of some plastic toy that to him looked like treasure.

This gave me an idea and I asked him if he wanted to go on a real treasure hunt. Sure thing! So we quickly returned home where I printed out what looked like fun instructions to a random letterbox. Well, not so random, since we go to the park it is hidden in and M loves it there. So I figured, even if we the hunt turns out a total bust, at least M would get to play in this great park.

But no worries, everything went oh-so-awesome! At the park, I read out the clues and M searched for them. It was awesome, especially once we got off the trail. We felt really adventurous, 20 yards or so away from the footpath. It was M who found the letterbox. He was a bit puzzled that there was no "treasure" there, just a notepad, a felt-tip pen, a red stamp pad and a stamp. But once I explained to him that it was a big game of pretend treasure and we were supposed to use our code names instead of our real ones, he was game.

After replacing the letterbox and carefully hiding it, M wanted to continue searching for more treasure. So we walked all around the park, looking for rocks and sticks and examining quite a few fallen trees. Then we went down to the creek and M explored it for a while and collected some more rocks. He was curious as to where all these rocks come from. And let me tell you, I should had paid a lot more attention in geography classes years ago. At least I remembered that some rocks are igneous, others - metamorphic and yet others - sedimentary (although I think this came from me listening to some of his stories on CDs). Definitely, something for us both to find out more about.

Seeing how letterboxing was such a great success, I will try to make it a regular weekend outing now. But it's not a New Year resolution.