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The Melting Pot

Our Escapades in Florida

20150628_101.JPGJacksonville BeachAs I mentioned in my last post, my mom and I had the crazy(?) idea to celebrate summer by loading up the minivan and taking the kids to Florida for two weeks.  It was quite the adventure.  

Monkey Boy really isn’t a theme park type of kid, so I had my reservations about this trip, but one of the reasons for planning it this summer was that I was determined to get him to Legoland before he was too old to appreciate it.  

20150628_50.JPGKona SkateparkThe first stop was to be Jacksonville Beach.  Because we are sort of crazy (did I mention that!?), we decided to drive there in one day.  Not long into the drive, Monkey Boy and Master Yi-Yi got into some fight that I can’t even remember the cause of, with Monkey Boy scratching his brother several times, but that ended as quickly as it began.  It really wasn’t too bad once we were a few hours into the trip and the kids had been lulled into that dazed stupor from riding in the car so long, broken only by periods of eating.  As we got closer to our destination, Monkey Boy had to complain that it was taking too long and we were going to be in the car for more than 16 hours.  But, we actually arrived in great time and were able to eat dinner and have a short stroll on the beach.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  So if you think you can handle it, I definitely recommend powering through and driving as far as you can on Day 1, especially if you’re like me and the thought of dragging all kinds of things into a hotel room for one night makes you shudder.

Jacksonville was fun, and I tried to keep my anxiety about sharks and flesh eating bacteria at bay.  The boys survived the ocean, and I didn’t panic too much.  There were some battles of wills between Master Yi-Yi and me over how far out was too far for boogie boarding.  Luckily, they also had a pool that Monkey Boy especially loved.  He equally had a great time in the sand.  We also had an afternoon interlude at Kona Skateparkso Master Yi-Yi could skateboard, which gave us a break from some of our battles at the beach.  One of the funniest things about our stay was Little H explaining to Monkey Boy what a bar of soap was!20150628_149.JPGLegoland

After three nights in Jacksonville, we moved onto LEGOLAND for a night.  We stayed in the LEGOLAND Hotel, which just opened in May, and all the kids loved it.  We chose the basic pirate themed room.  If any of you have Lego loving kids, I would definitely recommend the hotel.  The highlight was the hotel elevator with disco lights and music.  While the older two kids were too old for much of LEGOLAND, there was still enough to hold their attention for the afternoon.  The park says it caters to ages 2-12, and I think that’s about spot on.  That being said, there were still at least four or five rides that Master Yi-Yi enjoyed, but one afternoon was plenty.

Monkey Boy had a great time in the hotel pool during the evening.  They had giant foam Lego pieces to build with, so he created a whale named Sheila. We wound up staying until just before closing at 10 pm.  By that time all the really little kids had gone, and the pool was left with dazed looking parents and energizer bunny kids who weren’t going to bed anytime soon. 

20150628_165.JPGLegolandMonkey Boy was none too happy to discover that he only had one night at LEGOLAND before we moved onto the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando. He was still irked when we got there, and was even less happy to find out that not only couldn’t we get into our room yet, but we were intending to go to Islands of Adventure(one of the two parks that make up Universal Orlando).  A dippin’ dots sundae later, and he was much more amenable.  Winning a critter in the Arcade further sealed his acquiescence.  Honestly, I was kind of afraid he’d refuse to go on any rides, so I was pleasantly surprised that he went on some of the wilder ones with Master Yi-Yi. 

This was the first time we’d ever stayed on site at Universal, and we found it super convenient. In the past, we’ve found the hike to the parking lot exhausting after a long day in the parks.  In addition to being a short boat ride away from the gates of Universal, the perks of staying in the hotel included an express pass for each day we were there (which allowed us to bypass all the regular lines) and early entry into the parks. If at all possible, I highly recommend staying in one of the onsite hotels.  We loved the Hard Rock Hotel.  My mom especially enjoyed sitting by the pool with someone waiting on her for a change.

20150628_230.JPGUniversalThe next morning, we arrived at Universal bright and early at 8:15 am, so we could see the new Harry Potter section.  Once again, Monkey Boy was less than thrilled, but between a ride on Escape from Gringotts (from which I refrained given my propensity for motion sickness…I’m the real fun one at amusement parks!) and being the child chosen in Olivander’s to receive a wand directly from the wand maker, his mood improved.

We had the option of a third day in the parks, but Monkey Boy was adamant that we were not going, so we wound up relaxing in the gigantic pool after checking out.  It was a much needed break to prepare us for the upcoming stretch in Disney World.

Stay tuned for my next post, with the working title of “Can a Frazzled Mom, a Worn out  Grandma, Two Semi-Sulky Teens and a Very Needy Eleven Year Old Survive Six Days in Disney World?”

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Summer versus the SOL

20150605_82.JPGEnjoying the Nice WeatherHere we are, yet again, at the end of the school year.  For most of us, this is a busy time.  The days are longer, the weather is warmer without having reached the uncomfortable stickiness of summer, and spring fever has struck.  The kids, at least mine, have been crabby since Spring Break –remember that? Waaay back in early April?! 

Our school year routines are falling apart and getting them to study becomes more difficult by the day.  The pool is open (well on the weekends at any rate), picnics abound and outdoor activities resume.  For many kids, swim team practice has begun and in our case, training for Master Yi-Yi’s summer job as a camp counselor is underway. Everything screams of summer.  And in the midst of all this, most kids in third grade and above will be subjected to tests that supposedly epitomize their mastery (or not) in a variety of subjects…the infamous SOL tests. 

20131064.JPGMeghan's Rendition of the SOL'sI primarily have a “hate” relationship with the SOLs, even though they have become less stressful in our household.  Master Yi-Yi and Little H can generally get a passing score with very little extra studying, albeit they still have to complete many tedious packets.  However, many kids get way too stressed.  Neither one of mine cares about getting a perfect or advanced score as long as they pass, and that’s mostly so they don’t have to take their final exams.  Remember those from middle and high school?  In my day, you could only be exempt in the final semester of senior year.  Little H cares so little about her actual score that even though she had the opportunity to find out how she did, she told her teachers she only cared to know if she passed, so I guess we wait for report cards to see what she got. 

IMG_7250.JPGMonkey Boy's 11th BirthdayHowever…Monkey Boy struggles mightily with the SOLs and is more likely to tie his intelligence to his score.  And since he typically fails, this can be problematic with his self-esteem…to say the least!  It’s more than the actual material.  These tests are long and sometimes complicated and his focus, like many kids his age, wanes long before he reaches the last question.  At least Monkey Boy’s school emphasizes that a child’s intelligence is not measured by the test only, and the SOL is only one part of illustrating what they’ve learned. But the school’s reputation is still built on the percentage of kids who pass reading and math.

I can’t even see the purpose of the test, especially in elementary school.  It’s not used to retain them, it’s not used to find weaknesses and work on them, and it’s not used to push the kids who do well ahead.  The only use I see is to make kids who do well feel good, and the ones who don’t, feel dumb.  Some kids are great test takers and some aren’t.  Some can get perfect scores without studying and some have to work really hard to get the bare minimum.  I read an article that stated in the lower grades, the SOLs are used for diagnostic purposes.  It’s actually the first time, I’ve heard the tests described as such. And in the next sentence, the article says they are used for accreditation.  To me, it can’t be both.  If it’s simply a diagnostic tool, then it shouldn’t be used to test mastery of a subject or measure a teacher’s performance.20100728_7.JPGJacksonville Beach, Floirda 2010

For kids who struggle, the SOLs can be detrimental to their learning.  First, they are forced to learn and be tested on material that they are not cognitively ready for.  I think math is the worst as they fly through concepts leaving little room for the repetitive practice that leads to mastery.  You can read about that in my previous post.  It’s pretty clear to them which kids pass and which don’t, so it’s a concrete example, in their minds, that they aren’t as smart.  Therefore, many give up because they know that no matter how hard they try, they will always be behind.  As I mentioned before, Monkey Boy is a prime example.  I’m sure this isn’t true for every child, but I know Monkey Boy isn’t the only one.  He told me recently that he knows he’s gotten better at reading because the benchmark tests say so, not because he actually finds it easier.  So, he thought he might pass the SOL.  I wish he understood how far he’s come this year beyond a test score.20100728_276.JPGDisney World 2010

Ultimately, since we have no choice, I encourage my kids just to try their best.  And I must admit, I really don’t care if Monkey Boy passes these tests or not.  I’ve seen major improvement in him this year, and that’s good enough for me.  And so, we struggle with balancing the excitement of summer and the drudgery of testing, knowing that soon enough it’ll be nothing but relaxing and tons of fun in Florida!

Oh? You don’t know about my plans to load all three kids and my mom in the van and drive to Florida this summer? Stay tuned, I’m sure the road trip and the Disney visit will make for an entertaining blog post—if I live through it!

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The Misery of Math

I’m sure most of you have been there at one point or another, be it for yourself or your kids.  That point where we just want to pretend math doesn’t exist!  I actually used to like math and was relatively good at it.  And then I had children.  Like many of us who made it to advanced math classes, I can barely remember what Algebra 2 or Trig or Calculus is, much less how to do it.  It comes from not needing it in the 25 plus years since I last set foot into a classroom.  And now here I am with my children who struggle with math, knowing that some of it will be important throughout their lives, but other parts, they will barely remember. (Unless they’re planning to be mathematicians, engineers or follow careers along those lines that is! That is unlikely to be my children, though).  Don’t get me wrong, math is still very important.  It just seems that the way we look at math in our schools needs to change.

IMG_0764.JPGMaster Yi-Yi Fourth GradeLet’s take Master Yi-Yi.  From first through eighth grade, nothing was guaranteed to make him madder or cause him to throw a tantrum like math homework.  His undiagnosed ADHD in elementary school made it difficult for him to memorize facts.  He’d unlearn them as quickly as he learned them.  He seemed to grasp the underlying concepts, but his inability to quickly recall facts bogged him down.  Middle school was a little better than elementary school, though obviously he wasn’t in any advanced classes.  At least, he did always manage to pass his math SOL tests.  It wasn’t until high school that he actually began to enjoy math.  He had a wonderful algebra teacher who provided a great foundation, which is a good thing, because this year in geometry, he has pretty much been on his own to actually learn the material.  He will now tell you math is his favorite subject.  But he still isn’t good with his math facts.

20100907_20.JPGLittle H Fourth GradeLittle H has had a less tumultuous history with math.  But there is one thing that stands out.  When she was in third grade, the lattice method was the new wave in multi-digit multiplication.  And she learned to do it well, so much so that to this day any other methods make no sense to her.  She used it throughout third and fourth grade.  Then the school district adopted a new math series, and the lattice method went out of vogue.  So, the teachers told her to “forget” how to do it.  Since math, maybe more than any other subject, builds on what you know, this kind of devalued its importance in her mind.  Long division wasn’t all that much better.  In middle school, her teachers expected her to know the traditional way to do both long division and multiplication.  But no one ever really taught it.  The elementary school is all about spiraling and word problems.  The middle school just expected you to know it.  I wound up “trying” to teach her multi-digit multiplication and long division, but it hasn’t stuck too well.

20100907_24.JPGMonkey Boy First GradeAnd then there is Monkey Boy, who inspired me to write this blog because I was torturing both of us with math homework for SOL review last night.  I never truly knew what an utter nightmare math could be until he came along.  Kindergarten through second grade wasn’t so bad.  The problems really began in third grade right about the time he came to the realization that he doesn’t catch on as quickly as the other kids.  Beyond his learning disabilities, I mostly blame the spiraling curriculum and the SOL test for his difficulty with math to this day.

For those of you who don’t know, spiraling is a method where similar material is covered every year.  Its supposed purpose is to build on the year before.  And in theory, it sounds great.  But for kids who have trouble learning math, not so much.  Here is an interesting article.  As the article suggests, spiraling hinders children from mastering a concept, so children begin to feel like failures, and they shut down.  Monkey Boy is a classic example of this.

IMG_7006_001.JPGSpring 2015Every time we do homework, he tells me he doesn’t know math, and he’s not good at math.  And you know what?  He’s actually fine in math, but not at the level he is expected to be learning.  But he’s lost all his self-confidence. He’s failed every single math SOL test, yet he goes on to the next grade and continues to move forward without a good foundation. 

So, math homework continues to be a nightmare.  Monkey Boy confessed last night, as he was hiding and bouncing, that even if he doesn’t understand something, he will say he does, so his teacher will stop explaining it to him.  It doesn’t help that he also has a language learning disability, which makes verbal explanations doubly difficult for him. 

All the same we continue to plug away until the math homework is “done,” and I end each night feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck, and  I’m sure he ends up hating math just a little bit more.

 
 

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Dear Ryan: A Letter to My Teenage Son

ryanage3a.jpgThree Years Old

Dear Ryan (aka Master Yi-Yi),

As you rapidly approach the halfway mark through high school, I pause and reflect how quickly we have reached this point.  No longer are you the screaming baby who didn’t let me get any sleep or the chubby toddler who took off running almost as soon as you learned to walk.  Grandpa’s mower ceased to hold that twinkly eyed fascination long ago and outings to the hardware store for fun are but a distant memory.

IMG_1086.jpgSeven Years Old

A car has replaced your Power Wheels jeep, outings with friends have replaced playdates at the park, the yardwork you found so fascinating has turned into a chore, and your squeaky voice has become that of a man.

I am both dumbfounded at how quickly we have moved through each stage, although at the time some days seemed endless, and excited to visualize the man you are becoming.  Although at times you remain that strong willed, stubborn little boy, you also show genuine caring and compassion. You continue to keep me on my toes, one second making me so angry and the next laughing at your silliness.  Your laugh is still infectious, and I can’t get enough of your giggles even now.

20110804_9.JPGThirteen Years OldI still see so clearly that little face peeking out the window fighting back tears as the bus pulled you away from me.  And in a flash, you are a hulking sixteen year old with a brand new license burning a hole in your pocket.  Now you can’t wait to get away and go off on your own.

And weren’t you just that timid little boy at the skate park, who needed to observe the activity for great lengths of time before you felt comfortable enough to join in? Now, you and your friends ARE those teenage boys you used to admire from afar.  And you’re the one teaching at the summer skate camp you loved so much.IMG_5972_001.JPGSixteen Years Old

I am trying to savor these times because I know too quickly even these days will pass.  I try not to get bogged down in daily drudgery because our times together are dwindling. One day soon, you will leave home as an adult, no longer a child.  And much too quickly, we will move onto another phase.  I hope when we get there, I have done my job adequately and given you the tools you need to soar. 

Until then, I will relish the remaining time we have together,  and I am thankful that I get to be your mother.

 

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And Time Goes Marching On

The days are getting longer, the grass is getting greener, tiny buds will soon appear on brown tree branches, and we are hurtling toward the end of another school year.  Sometimes, I just want jumpyseat2.JPGto shout, “Halt, stop, wait! I’m not ready for the next step!”  Unfortunately, time keeps moving forward no matter how much I might want to fight it. I’m sure you know the feeling, no matter what stage your kids are in. Chubby cheeks thin out, wobbly steps transform into a run, and those first sweet words become full sentences…it’s an ongoing process, isn’t it?

But seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was worrying about sending Monkey Boy off to kindergarten?  Or just a few moments since I was wondering how he was going to do in third grade after looping with the same teacher for two years?  Last time I checked, it seemed that I had all the time in the world before I had to worry about my last child entering middle school.  But here I am on the cusp of sending Monkey Boy off, and I’m panicked.  It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with middle school.  Master Yi-Yi made it through just fine, and Little H is finishing up her last year with flying colors.  I know you get how I feel: don’t the kids look younger every year to you, too?! Don’t tell me it’s just me!

IMG_3119_001.JPGTo give him credit, Monkey Boy has had a great year.  He has shown progress in leaps and bounds.  His writing is neater and more detailed, his reading comprehension has grown, his language, compared to last year, is amazing, and he has made new friends.  And I start to think maybe it won’t be that bad.  But then I look at many of his classmates, who have also grown and progressed, and I realize he’s still not quite there.  No matter how many strides he makes, he always seems to be one step behind.  And most of the teachers in middle school are going to see him in this moment.  They will never know how much work and struggle it has taken to get to this point.  They aren’t going to be as involved or as patient as his elementary school teachers.  They can’t…they have too many students. 

img_3096.jpgThey won’t know the joy of realizing that Monkey Boy is speaking in grammatically correct sentences, or that he finally has the ability to realize what he doesn’t understand and ask questions.  They won’t know how long it has taken for him to actually understand what he reads.  And they won’t appreciate the very real struggle he has with math, or how much of a precipitous ledge he is on when it comes to self-esteem.  No matter where they are on the learning curve, don’t we all want school to be a positive experience for our children?

Each year, I have written his teacher a letter describing Monkey Boy’s journey, and they always encourage me to keep it up for the following year’s teacher.  So, in a few short months, I will be sending six letters. But can I make them understand that no matter how hard he tries, he doesn’t catch on quickly?  And will they know that he needs them to be patient and compassionate?  Will they appreciate his humor and dig beyond what’s on the surface?  These are qualities I’ve found in all of his elementary school teachers. And I’m terrified of leaving that environment.

So, while I’m thrilled that warmer weather is on the horizon, and summer is right around the corner, I continue to dread the ending of the school year.

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About Laura

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Laura is mostly a stay at home mom who works part time at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  In the past, she was a first grade teacher.  Over the years, she has kept herself busy volunteering at school, babysitting and caring for her children.  Currently, a lot of her time is spent dragging her youngest child, Monkey Boy, to various appointments in search of answers to his developmental issues.  She also has two teenagers, son:  Master Yi-Yi and daughter: Little H. Her melting pot family also includes her ex (father to her kids), the world’s best step-dad and husband, “TR” two step-daughters, two cats and a part-time dog!

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Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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