A letter from Someone Famous

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Ok, we haven’t yet had a letter from the Queen like a good friend of ours but we haven’t written to her yet so I guess that explains that. However  the other day I was inspired by Christie of Childhood 101 to try a letter writing strategy to get Daniel even more excited about his reading.  I say “more excited” because after successfully keeping Captain Underpants out of my house for the past 10 years, he made it in as a birthday present for Daniel when he turned 8.  Daniel has embraced the unlikely superhero and we’ve read through the first two books in the series. So I thought a letter from Captain Underpants might be a bit diverting for the final day of school holidays.  I researched Dav Pilkey’s address as best I could from the publisher’s website and put that on the back to facilitate a response.  Daniel has written a letter back to Dav and is going to add a picture of his own before we head off to the post office to post a letter all the way to the USA.  He “found” the letter in our front yard and much to his disgust it actually had his favourite pair of dinosaur undies wrapped around it.  I’m sure he knows the letter was written by me but he was more than happy to “suspend belief” and go along with it all.


Life Skills

Since my tumble down the stairs resulting in two injured ankles, I have learned many things – how to use crutches, how to go up and down stairs on crutches, the best way of calling a cab and the best sort of socks to wear when you have to wear them under splints 24/7 for SIX weeks  – only three to go!

Eric has learned a few useful things too.  He now knows:

how to make a cup of coffee (very important for his mother’s survival)

how to make a toasted sandwich (necessary for his survival)

how to change the shelves in the oven and turn it on

which things I need on my trolley when I go from place to place

He has also walked to the local chemist by himself when I was stranded at home and really needed prickly heat powder to put on under the aforementioned socks.  As the days go on he is using his school diary to keep track of the pick-up arrangements for each afternoon which is very useful given that the arrangements are different every single day!

I wish I could say something similar for Daniel but he’s just not into trying new things without a lot of help. His main interest in my injuries is the fact that I have much more time than usual for reading stories to him and listening to him read to me.  So he is learning in a more indirect way from what has happened.  To be fair, he has filled a few water bottles for me and he quite enjoys getting me a Berocca each morning.

All of this has really made me think about the times at which we begin to teach life skills to our children.  I think about it more, when I’m stranded somewhere at home needing something done and I wonder whether I can ask one of the boys to do it.  Will they be able? Will they be willing?  I’ve got a long mental list of things they do know how to do already but I’ve been thinking about how to move them on and some more things I could teach them.

Given that Eric is 10, I’d like to teach him to do simple ironing, start a load of washing choosing water level and temperature, do some vacuuming and where to access the electricity box and water in an emergency.  For Daniel my ambitions include stacking dishwasher, hanging out small washing on clothes airer, folding things and taking simple phone messages.  That’s just off the top of my head and I’m sure there are many more things.

I’d like my boys to get into very familiar routines for mornings, after school and evenings so that the jobs we wanted them to do and homework requirements etc were all just happening instead of coaxed out of them step by step each day.  That means of course that I need to have better routines for myself and I do recognise that.  I’d like them to develop their problem solving skills so they can see that there is often more than one solution to something that is bothering or perplexing them.  I’d like to help them develop their emotional resilience while also leaving them secure in the knowledge that it is ok for a boy to cry.

Eric and I are going to a funeral on Thursday and it will be his first one.  His teacher’s mum passed away last week.   Other students from his class are likely to attend with their parents so he is feeling some safety in numbers. A friend and I had a conversation with Eric and her daughter this afternoon about the sorts of things that happen at a funeral and why they are important. We talked about what it means to the family left behind to see that their community supports them.  Both children now have some concept of what they will see, hear and perhaps feel.  Dh and I decided that it was important for him to attend a funeral now for someone he didn’t know well because there will come a time when he has to attend a funeral for someone he does know well.  When that time comes it may be a bit less overwhelming because he knows the sorts of things that will happen.

Now is the time for us to be mindful of the learning opportunities that are out there in everyday life for our children and to make the most of them even if it does take longer to get things done and they may not be done as well as we would have done them.

You may have noticed that I didn’t put on Eric’s list that he knew how to make toast with honey.  To explain I give you (as accurately as I can remember) our conversation on the Sunday morning before last.

“I’m going to make you a coffee Mum.  Would you like something for breakfast?”

I take frantic mental inventory – what can he make and bring into bedroom without spilling it?  I think that rules out cereal so I settle on toast with jam.  He disappears.

“There’s no jam anywhere Mum.  Can I put something else on?”

“Um, yes. How about some honey?”

“Sure!”

At this point the kettle stopped boiling ages ago, he’s been to the fridge several times but no smoke alarms have gone off.  Then he appears again.

“I’ve sort of made a mistake.”

“Oh yes?”

“I sort of put the margarine and honey on but I forgot to put the bread in the toaster.  Should I put it in now?”

“Um, no, that will be fine, you can just bring it in to me the way it is.”

As it turned out, he probably could have put the bread in the toaster quite easily because he eventually appeared with barely lukewarm coffee and two slices of stale bread with a tiny smear of margarine down the centre of each and about 1 teaspoon of honey altogether between two pieces.

“Thank-you gorgeous, it was so nice of you to make me some breakfast!”

“That’s ok Mum, nothing to it” and he struts away, chest out feeling very proud of himself.

We might still be learning but I’ve got very good material to work with!

 

 


Change in Normal Programming

It has always been my intention to keep this blog as an upbeat, positive way of sharing things that work for me in my roles as museum educator, wife, mother, crafter and so on.  However in a change to “normal programming” I’m going to share about my week because while things didn’t really work for me, I am still alive and able to tell the tale  and along the way I have learned a few more things as you often do when life throws you a “curve ball”.

First some background.  I’m overweight, have high blood pressure and have recently been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea OSA which means I can wake up to 29 times in four hours of sleep.  Last Sunday night I had a follow-up sleep study which determined what sort of mask and c-pap machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) would work best for me and the settings at which the machine should be set.  I wasn’t all that thrilled about needing the machine – after all it is a very unsexy look for someone about to turn forty but I did understand the need for it and the fact that I have been feeling drowsy when driving was making me quite anxious.

So on Monday I had a day off to recover from the sleep study which went well but only involved about 3 hours sleep because of difficulties with their monitoring equipment.  Then on Tuesday I drove to work in the rain ready to start dismantling and packing away a fairly large activity area that has been used for a recent event at the Museum.  While packing boxes and pushing stuff around on trolleys I started to feel very unwell with severe chest pain.  Ended up having a night in Ipswich hospital and a night in the Wesley Hospital, several blood tests, several ecgs and a stress test which thankfully have all shown a healthy heart.  But with episodes of chest pain still happening I do have to get things further investigated and I have an appointment with my wonderful GP tomorrow to begin that process.

Some things I learned:

  • The staff at Ipswich hospital are fantastic including a wonderful cardiologist who explained all the connections between my various issues and insisted that I get the c-pap happening asap.  Thanks to him I was able to get things moving at the Wesley and came home with a c-pap machine on Thursday night.

  • If they are not sure what to give a new patient for dinner at Ipswich hospital you can be presented with a plate containing three types of puree.  In defense of the hospital kitchen however I was probably the only one in the room with teeth.

  • Some people say very helpful things and some people say very unhelpful things.  Unfortunately the people you would most want to say helpful things don’t.

  • Ambos are not amused by stories of people with acute chest pain being driven to hospital by one of their colleagues.  Even when I told them this particular colleague was a legend they were still unimpressed.

  • If you don’t have a change of undies in hospital they have very attractive paper ones – think of an adult sized huggies. (This was the highlight of the whole episode for Daniel)

  • When you enter a toilet shared with three males to find wee all over the seat and floor the urge to get down on your knees and clean it up does happen until you remember that you are NOT related to these three males.

  • Hospitals have Wonderful showers.

  • The new cardiac wing at the Wesley is like Heaven on Earth.

  • On the purely practical side it is probably a good idea to keep a change of clothes and one set of medication in the car or with you at all times especially if you work somewhere that is some distance from where you live.

  • Husbands don’t think a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant are warranted for an overnight hospital stay.  But dirty looks from emergency department nurses do wonders!


The Learning Environment

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about the Montessori approach to education in the past day or so and these words have stuck with me as I mulled it over,

The classroom itself will typically be beautiful and enticing. Great care has been taken to create a learning environment that will reinforce the child’s independence and natural urge toward self-development. This is achieved in three ways: beauty, order and accessibility.

Beauty. Order. Accessibility.  These seem to be great words to live by in setting up a classroom environment and a home environment for children which is another educational environment when it is all said and done.

Beauty

I’ve been scanning photos from my high school days to share on Facebook (much to the horror of some of my old classmates) and I noticed the framed prints on the walls of the hall.  In Montessori classrooms the walls are not filled with children’s artworks so that no wall can be seen.  Items to be displayed are chosen carefully and may include student work but also other art works and beautiful things.  The room is bright, warm and inviting to students and parents.  I’ve been in many classrooms that are certainly bright and engaging but are also overwhelming for a child because of the sheer amount of things on display in them.  I think an over-decorated classroom/learning environment can cause a certain amount of sensory overload and make it difficult for  a child to concentrate.  Quality rather than quantity seems to be the message here.  There is a lot of beauty in nature that can of course be introduced to the classroom environment.  I know my boys are entranced by the fish tanks in a few places in their school and potted plants and even flowers really “lift” a room and soften the hard lines of what is usually quite utilitarian construction.  At home I often find the “beauty” obscured by clutter.  As I write this I have two special items on my desk –  a terra-cotta pot decorated by Daniel with “decoupaged” and differently coloured images of himself and one of our best wedding photos.  Unfortunately I can’t actually see either of them because of everything else on the desk.  Fortunately the living areas of our house usually look a bit better but the clutter frequently takes over there as well.

Order

I’ve had the experience now of arriving in many different classrooms for a day of work.  It is a much better experience when I arrive to a clear desk with everything laid out for me to use.  I know this is not always possible because teachers are often away from work unexpectedly but it is really helpful in getting off to a good start with a class.  I’m sure that as a relief teacher, that if you can appear to be “on top of things” as early as possible in the day you are better off.  Some classrooms I’ve been in have been so ordered that I was a bit worried about being able to leave everything in the same state that I found it.  However when I get to spend a bit more time in these rooms I can see how the “order” in classroom materials and books actually helps the day to run more smoothly.  Even very young students know where to get things, where to put them away and this enables them to be more self-directed and self-sufficient.  They can work at their own pace and this helps everyone to be more relaxed.  Having experienced such wonderful “order” in several classrooms has made me determined to have a lot more order in whatever work environment I find myself in next.  When I arrive to a desk strewn with different materials I have been known to put it all in a pile to one side especially if I’m going to be there for than a day.  That seems to immediately make it easier for me to think through what I’m going to do with the class.  For me, order in the home has a lot to do with routines.  Knowing that there is a designated time for homework and that every other activity will have to wait makes it much easier to focus on homework for all of us.  The other thing that helps is having all the equipment necessary – pencils, erasers, colours, scissors, glue etc – in a tote box that can be shifted to wherever we are working means that the flow of work is not interrupted in order to hunt for things.  I have especially found this year that when trying to get  certain 6 year old to focus on his sight words that every second is precious!  Of course a bit more order around here would make life much less stressful.  I’m sure that a certain 9 year old who raced around the house yesterday afternoon searching for his hockey mouthguard that had to be worn for training would agree with this!

Accessibility

Every student deserves a desk and chair that fits!  It is good if students can lift lids of desks or access tote boxes without affecting others.  Large storage for individuals does not generally work well because things are too easily lost.  I’ve seen magazine file boxes used for student books and smaller tote boxes that work well.  Having the bare minimum of gear in a student’s desk and distributing what is needed when it is needed seems to work well with younger students and some older ones who get distracted by having too many things out at once.  I think teachers deserve to be comfortable too!  I have loved working in classrooms that have an armchair for the teacher to sit in when the students are on the floor because I can be close to students without having to be on the floor.  Ideally students should be able to get to as much equipment as possible themselves without having to rely on someone to open cupboards to get things down from high shelves.  Being able to access and then put away resources that they need empowers students to become more independent as learners.  Children can become more independent in the home when they have access to what they need.  We can’t have everything that the boys need at their level in the kitchen but we keep a step stool here to help.  I’m also in the process of re-organising some of my cupboards with tupperware so that they can get to breakfast cereal themselves.  This small thing could be life changing in terms of parents getting to sleep in.  I’ve also solved some of my own accessibility issues with my craft storage area.  Being able to grab something out of a sliding tote means more precious minutes of crafting time!

There is only a small chance that I will end up as a Montessori teacher and I’m far from being a Montessori “purist” but I do think there are things to be gleaned from this approach that will help in all environments in which learning takes place.


Learning Is Taking Risks

This isn’t shameless self -promotion but a big “pat on the back” for my first born.  One of the jobs I’ve applied for in the past few weeks is at an “independent school ” that is run on democratic principles.  This has caused me to put a lot of thought into different learning styles and what the optimum learning environment is for a range of different learners.  A huge factor in successful learning is having an environment that is so supportive and structured in a way that students feel confident enough to take risks, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes.  I’ve certainly been doing that with my own learning over the past few months and now Eric has been able to do the same.  He attended a holiday workshop at Threads and More this week in which he had the opportunity to design and create his own soft toy from felt.  Firstly he was the only boy there and it hasn’t occurred to him that sewing and knitting and the sorts of things one does at Threads and More are not necessarily male pursuits so he is entirely non self-conscious.  He was also very comfortable there because he’s accompanied me there a few times to work on his beginner cross stitch piece while I am knitting and the staff there have always given him a really good reception.  He knows that people there are interested in what he is doing and he knows that Adam (the 6 foot chef with dreads in the attached cafe) makes a seriously good strawberry milkshake.

However, I wasn’t prepared for how well he would go in this workshop.  He’s done a small amount of cross stitch and probably some sewing in his pre-school days but that would be it.  He cannot yet tie up his shoelaces tightly enough for them to stay done up.  So I thought he’d blunder through and produce something with intensive support from the lovely Anissa.  The other members of the class as far as I could see copied the examples that Anissa had out on the table or in one case made a friend for the doll she’d made at Christmas.  This is fine and no doubt they did learn a bit more by doing this but copying something was not for Eric.  He got busy with pen and paper and drew a “Turtwig” (a pokemon character whose name I do not know how to spell) and then proceeded to create a 3-D rendering of the creature.  It’s got four legs that stick out from the bottom, a body and embroidered shell.  There are plans for a head and some sort of antenna that sticks out from that.  Annissa asked if I could possible come and knit on Sunday afternoon so that he could come with me and do some more work on it.  I was so proud of him for thinking outside the square and creating something of his own rather than going for the easier option and just copying something that was in front of him even though it was a task he had never attempted before.  Once again the learning environment at Threads and More was just right for him to have confidence and take risks with his learning.

He is bubbling over with enthusiasm since this workshop and has had a big talk to Anthony about how he will continue to accompany me to Threads and More when this Pokemon is finished so that he can make another Pokemon character for Daniel’s 7th birthday.  There is even talk of making something for Grandma to keep on her bed but I can’t imagine what that might be although I suppose we could remind him that Grandma Maureen has a thing for elephants.

In other news, I’ve completed the Lion Stripe Sweater I was knitting for Eric <insert very happy dance here>.  I finished it by about 10:00pm on Wednesday so he could show it off at the shop on Thursday and Daniel modelled it so I could take some photos to upload to Ravelry.  I’m really happy with it and pleased that I was able to stick with it even when the going got tough.  Contrary to Daniel’s wishes I didn’t start his Cowboy Cardigan that night but I did make a start on it the next day while Eric was doing his workshop.  I’m also working on some cotton face cloths to sell on the school Mothers Day stall so there is plenty to do with my knitting sticks!


Perseverance

I have almost finished knitting a jumper for Eric.  I’ve made the front, back and two sleeves and I’ve joined it at one shoulder and knitted the turtle neckline.  For the past week or so I’ve been stitching lions and as this post goes to press I have two more lion bodies and four manes to stitch.  Then I need to do 14 eyes (colonial knots with embroidery thread) and 14 tails – plaited wool the same colour as the manes.  Then I have to stitch the whole thing together.

It has been a long slow process but another learning process.  I’ve learned how to do a slip stitch pattern (which looks like little bunny ears) and it was much easier than I thought it would be – that was a lesson at Threads and More with Ann.  I’ve learned that sometimes a knitting pattern doesn’t tell you every single thing you need to know to complete it and how to join on a neckline – that was a Sunday afternoon session with Rian.  The hardest lesson was that if you miss just one tiny part of an instruction you can make a very big mess.  In my case it was something about decreasing at both ends of each alternate row to finish shaping the sleeves.  I had blissfully decreased on only one side – seriously what was I thinking?  However I was rescued from this mess by Cheryl (a home ec teacher) who was at Knit and Knatter last Thursday night.  I had a funny feeling that something was wrong but after three days of high energy work with a couple of Year 2 classes I wasn’t sure if I was ready to deal with it.  Cheryl wasn’t having any of my hesitation and under her guidance and while being plied with coffee and encouragement from the other ladies we ripped out half of each sleeve – yes, I said half! and by the end of the evening I was well on the way to having one sleeve re-constructed.  By the end of the weekend I had both sleeves finished again and was able to move on to stitching the lions.  It took me a little while to get the hang of the knit stitch embroidery technique and due to some exciting television I’ve painstakingly unpicked and re-stitched some of them but I seem to have mastered it now.

As a teacher we should be lifelong learners and I would go so far as to say we should seek out new learning experiences.  It would be very dangerous to ever forget what it is like to be in the learner’s shoes.  I don’t want to forget my mistakes because I’ve learned from all of them.  They have made the whole process longer but infinitely more worthwhile.  When I finish this project I will be equipped with several new skills to apply to future knitting projects.  The most important thing I’ve learned is that there is always something that can be done about mistakes.  They aren’t the end of the world.  Facing my mistakes and dealing with them has been an area of some difficulty in my life but through this big knitting adventure I am learning to do things wrong and then fix them by doing things right.

This positive attitude towards making mistakes and then fixing them is something that I would like to pass on to every learner I come in contact with.

There are no photos with this post but I promise there will be plenty when this project is completed.

Then the next knitting adventure will be Daniel’s cowboy jacket complete with fringing and sheriff’s badge according to his very important specifications!


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