30 May 2011

A boy and his dog? Not exactly...

Yesterday we drove to Lake Bluff to pick up a new foster dog - a two year old Aussie/whippet mix named Pogo.  He'd been described to me as a calm dog, a real cuddly pooch.  I thought he would be a great foster dog and had mental images of the boys running and playing with him, throwing balls and frisbees and teaching him to go down the slide.

It wasn't to be.

The moment Pogo laid eyes on the kids, his body language changed to fearful and anxious.  A growl rose up in his throat and at one point, he actually snapped at Jacob (who wasn't paying attention to his body language).  It was decided that he wasn't going to go home with us.  I can't see how rehabilitation would work if he was living in a constant state of anxiety.  I'm guessing he's had bad experiences with children in his past.

Not to mention, I'll never be okay with taking in an animal who might potentially bite one of my children.

Today I got a call about Hansel, a three year old dachshund.  My family actually had a dachshund when I was 12, and I loved playing with him and he was a great companion.  Dachshunds are known to be family dogs, great playmates to children and adults alike.  Tomorrow, we will drive to the vet and meet Hansel, and if he seems comfortable with the boys, he'll come home with us.

It's also kitten season, so I am expecting we will be asked to take in another litter soon.  That should make Gryphon happy - he's been kneading the ground in front of the kitten crate and crying for his "babies".  Whenever we watch a video of kittens on YouTube, he gets excited and runs around, searching for the babies.  I'm thinking we're going to have to take in at least one or two kittens at the least, to keep Mr. Gryphon calm and happy. 

24 May 2011

Almost summer vacation...

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy " - Jacob Burg, age 7

Getting children to focus at this time of year is nearly impossible - they have less than a week until summer vacation starts, and they are restless for the school year to be done.  They still will have work to do, though.  We insist that each child work on their weaknesses during summer break.

Last year each boy worked on his reading and writing.  Although all three boys read well, they sometimes skim the paragraphs rather than reading in-depth.  And their handwriting?  Well, to put it nicely, I've seen better handwriting from a left-handed doctor!  And all three of them struggled with sentence structure and composition.  So last summer we decided that each boy had to read a set number of pages in a book, and then write a small book report - one or two paragraphs - about what they read.  Then, and only then, were they free to go play with their friends.

Oooo, did we have some fights at first.  Although they love to read, they hated the idea of writing a small report about what they read.  And for the first few weeks, I never accepted their first report because it didn't meet the standards Sean and I had set for each child.

"James, I circled several words that you misspelled.  You need to go back and re-write your report with the words spelled properly.  If you need help, the dictionary is on the table."

"Jacob, you are having a problem writing your sentences - they need to flow, just like the sentences you speak.  Also, you need to have the first word capitalized and a punctuation mark at the end of every sentence.  Please go back and fix these mistakes."

"Jonathan...~stunned shock~...I can't even make out half of the words in this report.  I can't even tell if you have the sentences structured right!  Go back and write it legibly please".

Poor kids...they didn't get outside until after 5pm during the first few weeks of summer break.  But they quickly realized that Sean and I were very serious about the work assignments, and slowly they began to improve.  By week five, each boy was making it outside before lunch.  By week seven, they were done before 10am (impressive, considering they started around 8:30 every morning).

Now, I know some people are reading this with their jaws dropped, feeling that Sean and I are far too harsh in our parenting style.  But let's be honest...children who don't learn these skills will never make it far in this world.  With more and more communication being written rather than verbal (especially in this day and age of the internet), being able to express yourself well through writing is more important than ever.  To my way of thinking, it would be far crueler to NOT work on their academic weaknesses. 

By the end of the summer, the boys had gone from actively disliking their "homework" to being proud of their results.  The first time each child got a perfect paper on the first try, I let them choose what desert we would have that night - and I let that child help cook it.  The looks of pride on their faces is something that I will never forget.  And they started the new school year with confidence - and were stunned and thrilled to discover they were far ahead of their peers.  Both Jacob and James were made teacher assistants, helping the other students with reading - and they are both very proud of that fact.  And when Jon brought home a report card with an A in English, he was flabbergasted - but thrilled.

This afternoon, after school, Jacob came to me and asked "Why haven't I started writing book reports yet?"  I was a little surprised (I was going to have them do something else this summer), but I said "Well, summer break hasn't technically started yet, has it?"  He agreed with that and then asked if he could read outside since it was so nice out.  As he was spreading his blanket out on the grass, he made this comment.

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy.  Right, mom?"

How did such a young child get to be so wise?  Could it be because he's been taught that learning is a gift, not a chore?

This summer, I am planning to have the kids work on history - specifically, American history.  There is so much about our nation's history that gets skimmed over in the classroom.  For example, did you know during the Depression that our nation's troops fired on our own veterans in Washington, DC?  I had never realized that tanks had been driven down our nations capital with the sole intent of attacking our veterans...school never taught me that.  I learned that on my own.  Now, I don't think I will teach the younger two that - they are too young to understand right now.  But Jon is turning 14 this summer, he'll be going into high school in the fall, and he's ready to learn more in-depth topics, both good and bad, about our nation's history.

And since Jacob requested it, perhaps I'll have them each write a small report about the major events in our history.  No reason not to keep up with good writing habits as well.

05 May 2011

Hectic insanity

I realize I haven't posted in a while.  Things have been rather hectic around here lately...between spring planting and children getting excited about school ending soon, plus hubby working extra hours (we need a few extra days worth of income to make it to my sister's wedding at the end of the month) - it's just been crazy around here.

Insanity - but the good kind of insanity. 

James had an American-themed concert at his school earlier this week.  I tried taking some video...not sure yet how well it came out.  If it's clear, I'll post a clip or two to this blog.  Jacob has a concert himself next week - I'll try to take video of that as well.  Jon doesn't have any concerts, but he's getting excited about summer break.

Gardening has become much more difficult than I had anticipated.  The neighbor who was going to loan me her rototiller has had some problems with the machine, so I have to dig the entire garden by hand.  When you consider that I was planning over 400 square feet in the backyard and another 200 square feet in the front...well, suffice it to say that I've been remarkably busy.  All that digging has to occur in between rain showers and laundry, dirty dishes and cooking, baking bread and trying new recipes.  It's a madhouse around here, but a fun one.

Now, can someone pass me the Tylenol?  Digging a garden out by hand is killing my lower back!