Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!!!!!

Competition brings out the best and the worst in some people.  In kids, it's a little glimpse into how they're going to relate to others when they grow up.  Case in point--The All City Track Meet.  Here are the kids at the beginning of the cacophonous, frenetic, team-spirited event.

All smiles--Whoop-de-doo!  Happy as can be.  Ready to take on their events, run fast, pass batons, have fun.  Here they are at the end of the event.

After all the ribbons had been presented.  After they LOST their events.  What?  you say, but they've got ribbons.  What gives?  Yes, they were in relay races against 2 other teams.  All the relay team members got ribbons.  T2 didn't even run.  She was the alternate. 

But the individual events is where I really got to see my twins' sensibilities, and in the individual events is where the teachable moment lies. 

When T1 didn't win, he said, "Oh well, at least I got a medal for the relay. It was fun." 

"Good for you!" I said.  That's right, you did your best and you had fun.  Let's go home and have a cool drink and celebrate your maturity.

T2 cried.  Sobbed.  Said she was robbed.  The other girls cheated.  Little Miss Competitive.  She was more than a little disappointed.  And seriously unwilling to take responsibility for the outcome.  The blaming is where I thought to act.  How can I ease that feeling of pain that comes when you have an expectation that doesn't pan out?  I know that feeling.  I'm holding back tears too watching her process this sad emotion that inevitably comes as children learn about the ya-win-some-ya-lose-some lessons of the world.

"Did you do your best?" I asked. 

"Yes," she sighs, "but my back still hurts from the bruise." (Long story of a mishap with some stone steps.)

"You know what?" I ask, "you're right.  That must be still smarting you.  And not placing makes it feel worse.  For next year, we can practice.  I've got a stop watch....."

Her eyes light up.  "Right!" she says.  I can see the brain going.  "Let's run everyday.  You can time me and see if I can do it faster."

A-ha.  Will she grow and begin to see that she is the only one who can mold the outcome of her life?  Did I do the right thing?  (If you ascribe to Carol Dweck's Mindset, then yes, I guess).  For how long will hugs ease the sting of losing?

Forever, I hope.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Let's Pretend.......Words Heard from the Playdate

Having twins and working outside the home, for me, means that I very rarely schedule playdates for my kids.  Why would I?  They are the same age.  They have similar interests.  They play well together.  Playdates are complicated, what with the driving them here or there, or coordinating drop off and pick up times.  And what's more, I only really get to spend extended periods of time with my kids on the weekends, do I really want them gone for 2,3,4 hours?

The answer is it's not up to me.  I'm beginning to learn that it is better for my kids' development and their imaginations to play with other kids their age--and the same gender.

Yesterday, I scheduled playdates for both kids.  Each one had a friend over.  These were looooong playdates.  The first kid arrived at 7:45 am and the last kid left at 5 pm.  I made 17 grilled cheese sandwiches and cut 100 strawberries.  Okay, well not really, but it seemed like it.  Their imaginary play just evolved from each corner of the house.

I decided to spy, stealthily from place to place observing, like a social scientist scrutinizing subjects in contrived habitats. You wouldn't believe what I heard.

"Let's pretend we were best friends, and we're fairies."

"No, we're jazz cats, and we have to come to this island every once in a while, and people take care of us."

"Wait, we're tiger cubs and you have to tame us."

"Let's pretend we're putting on a show and I'm the only one who can do this special move."

 "Let's pretend we have to have a battle and we have to jump off this couch into those cushions to see who wins."

"And we're magic and we have to use wands to make spells."

The boys had created an elaborate game that resembled skeeball and involved what boys like best--throwing things.  They threw Mighty Beanz up the skateboard ramp and into the playhouse, assigning different points for each window or door the toy went through.  DG said the game should really be called, "Where's My Mighty Bean" because that was all they said over and over as they looked for the chucked toys.

The girls set up a spa in my bathroom.  There, all my nail polish bottles were strewn around the bathroom floor and they were painting each other's fingertips nails.  It was hard to get a word in edgewise as they cheeped like baby chicks and squealed their approval of each other's looks.  I intervened and served as manicurist for a couple of minutes.

The boys made a battlefield of the couch cushions.  The girls were a dozen different characters in a multitude of made up stories from fairies to princesses to dancing divas.

I discovered in my scientific observation that boys are different than girls.  Ha.  Who knew.  And all this time I was treating my twins as just kids.  I was encouraged by their gender-specific play.  Both kids were able to spend time imagining a world where they could just be who they wanted to be.  There was no looming school work, no scheduled activity, no birthday party, no parents' errands that needed to drag them away from the sheer joy of being a seven-year-old boy or girl.  Maybe more of these playdates are a good idea.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Homework: The Great Divider of Families

My son hates homework.  He's like a puppy distracted by a shiny thing whenever he sits down to do it.  No sooner has he finished one math problem that he's out of the chair, sharpening his pencil, looking at the notebook paper curling at the edges--anything to take him away from the homework. He pretty much always finishes the assigned work, but it's grueling to keep him focused long enough to do what other kids can do in 10 minutes.  It can take 45 minutes to write five sentences.

And again, like I've mentioned in this blog, I blame myself for this dilemma because I am simply not there.  I'm not there when he does his homework at the after-school program where the kids are crammed around tables with everyone talking, moving around, and being distracted in their own ways.  I'm not there when the teacher gives out the homework and says, "You can do the packet but not this one page," which my son insists she says on a regular basis.  When I try to help him, it's usually at the end of the day; he's tired, and so am I, and I am worried about getting dinner cooked.  We both end up fried.

I am an educator.  I have students who don't have a lick of study skills.  I swore when my kids started school that I was going to know exactly what to do to make sure their love of learning was nurtured and molded in the best pedagogical way.  I had fantasies of sitting around the dining room table, the kids helping each other with their work and me sitting there grading my students' papers.  This is not what is happening, and I feel like I'm losing control, and that his love of learning is slipping away every. single. day.  It disheartens me.

I have a friend who is a huge believer in the current movement that argues against the value of homework for elementary school kids at all.  I read an article on that reviewed 3 books on the subject.  I am beginning to see the point.  The struggle to help kids as they mire through pages of inane worksheets that practice the same math sums and subtractions in a myriad of ways is mind numbing.  It makes that time that we spend together laborious, contentious, and sad.  One article I read said, "If the homework is such that the child procrastinates, resists, surface-skims, and does sloppy work so he can get done, be advised that those are precisely the study habits being learned." 


My children's elementary school rolled out a new homework policy that limits homework to only 10 minutes per grade level per night.  No take home projects for long weekends.  They say this is to preserve quality of life for families.  I know what I have to do to have a better quality of life with my family.  I have to be present to give them meaningful experiences that include teachable moments throughout their day.  I have to inspire them to think critically and to explore learning because it's something they want to do to discover the world around them and to find their place in it. I have to let go my fear that what is happening now, in first grade, is any indication of how he will be for his entire academic career.

I have to believe in the hope that someday, I'll watch him pouring over some book or he'll come to me with a hypothesis he wants to research.  I have to have that hope.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oh, the Pressure!

Don't you hate it when you have a million blog post ideas in your head, and instead of drafting or writing, you just think about them everyday, and when evening comes, and you think you want to write one, you're so burned out after doing the dishes and making the lunches and cleaning the fish tank that clever, witty posts elude you?

I know I sure hate that.