11 August 2011

Learning to ride a bike

To my shame, I must admit that my younger children did not get their own bikes until August of 2010, for their seventh and eighth birthdays, respectively.  Why not?  Well, we had moved to Illinois when the children were four and five, and we moved into an apartment building that had no storage space for bicycles.  We couldn't see the point of buying a bike for the boys when they would have no place to put it.

In July of 2010 we moved to a home in a suburban neighborhood - complete with a yard, a driveway of our own, and ~gasp~ a shed for storing bikes.  My husband suggested getting each child a bike for his birthday, and I agreed.  Jon's birthday is in July, and James and Jacob were born in August, so within six weeks of moving to our new home, all three boys had new bikes.

Jon already knew how to ride a bike, so I didn't have to work with him at all.  Sean and I both started out teaching the younger boys, but for some reason they didn't seem interested after the first couple of days.

"It's just too hard, Mom!  I didn't think it would be this hard."

Then the first snows came early, and thus halted bike learning for 2010.  I started up again in early summer this year (the spring was constantly rainy, so we hadn't had a chance before July to practice again).  This time I handled the training a bit differently...I focused on teaching just James.  The reason for this is simple - my youngest, Jacob, has a temper, and is stubborn as a mule.  When he fails to learn a new skill after the first couple tries, he crosses his arms and refuses to try anymore.  But he's also very competitive, and I knew that if James learned how to ride a bike first, Jacob's natural competitive nature would drive him to learn the skill in short order.

My plan worked like a charm.  I focused on James and within a week he was able to ride his bike all the way down the driveway before falling.  His shouts of joy and triumph drew Jacob, who watched him wobble down the driveway.  Jacob hugged his brother, congratulated him, then turned to me with a determined expression and said "I want to learn now!".

By the second week, James was riding to the corner and back without falling over once, and Jacob had mastered the driveway.  ~laughs~ I love it when psychology works!

This morning I took the boys out again.  James has been asking to ride around the block, which I was a bit leery about (our block is amazingly long - just walking around it is more than three quarters of a mile).  But I said if big brother Jon went with him, James could ride around the block.

While the two older boys were gone, Jacob rode down the driveway, turned, and rode about three houses down.  I watched as he attempted a U-turn (which he has never successfully done before).  And he made it - just barely, but he managed to turn around without falling off!  He spent the rest of the morning riding back and forth in front of our house, doing U-turns and riding back.  Every so often he would fall, but he got right back up and brought his bike back to start again.  You could just see the determination to catch up with his older brothers! 

By the end of August, I suspect I will have three skilled bike riders in the family.

26 July 2011

Another geography lesson

A few days ago, my husband and I impulsively decided to go to a Border's store that was closing.  Everything was on clearance, and although finances are crazy tight, Sean said I could spend $15 on whatever I wanted. My first thought was to get the Ishmael trilogy by Daniel Quinn, but evidently it's a popular book series - it was already gone.  I wandered the fiction and non-fiction areas but nothing jumped out at me.  I considered getting a couple of puzzles for the kids, but nothing just seemed to click...

I found a book called "Plunge into History" that looked interesting, and I thought the kids might enjoy reading it as well, so I picked that up.  Left me with about six dollars, and nothing was really looking good.  Then Sean pointed out the maps.

I've been wanting to get a map of the U.S. for a while now, and this was a nice big map - three feet by five feet.  It was two dollars more than my six remaining dollars, so I went to put the book back.  But Sean stopped me and said he'd  be willing to pay the extra two dollars since I had chosen something educational. The kids were thrilled with their new map, and spent about 25 minutes pouring over it when we hung it up.  But I knew it would become a boring, everyday poster if I didn't use it regularly. During the school year, that won't be so hard, but how to incorporate it during the summer? 

That's not as hard as you might think.  This year, we had to order new backpacks for all three kids.  I pulled up the shipping details this morning and discovered that Jacob's backpack had already shipped out from Lexington.  So I showed him the online shipping details and then asked him "How far away do you think Lexington is?"

He went STRAIGHT to the map, and found it in seconds.

Jacob points to Lexington, Kentucky
He's excited - he discovered that the backpack is now in Itasca, IL (about twenty miles away).  It will probably arrive today, and so he keeps running to the windows every time he hears a vehicle drive by.  "Is that my package? Aw, drat, it's just the neighbor's car."

I'd love to homeschool, but I know it's not the right step for me at this point in my life.  But that doesn't stop me from encouraging learning at home!  My kids are at the top of their classes, mainly because Sean and I have taught them that learning is fun rather than a chore to be dreaded at all costs. 

How do you encourage education at home?

04 July 2011

More Trouble pics

"Wow, Daddy - you're really big!"

"Can I smell too?"

"Play with me!"

"Quit laughing at me and help me up the step!"

Nothing beats a soft pillow for a nap after playtime!
(Wii-mote show with puppy for scale)

29 June 2011


A couple days ago, I was walking Hansel when a neighbor flagged me over.  She held a small black puppy in her hand and when I came over, she thrust him into my arms.

"He won't eat."

The conversation that went on from there was too long to copy here, but the long and short of it was as follows:  Five weeks ago, the woman's dog had delivered nine puppies, and when they were three and a half weeks old, the mother dog rejected them.  Eight of the puppies were thriving without mommy - they were munching down on the dog food and everything - but the runt of the litter wasn't eating, wasn't growing, and was starting to fade. 

She made it clear that she wasn't going to spend a cent on this runt, either to buy formula, or different food, or to take him to the vet.  He was either going to starve to death, or I could take him.

So I took him.

Sean wasn't happy at first, but after walking back with me to talk to the neighbor (and seeing her apathy towards the pup), he calmed down.  We discovered the woman had been feeding all the pups the same food she fed their mother - dry dog food, the kind for big breed dogs (so each individual kibble was huge).  The rest of the puppies were more than double the runt's size, and could handle the large food pellets.  But the runt couldn't even open his mouth up wide enough to attempt it.

We took the pup to the pet store and bought a dozen cans of puppy food.  He ate that with no problem - in fact, he was almost inhaling the food, as though he was afraid his bigger siblings would magically appear and steal it from him.  After his first meal, he staggered about five steps away from the food dish and went to sleep.

The first day, he did nothing but eat, sleep, and poop.  The second day, he showed a bit more life, walking around and exploring a little bit, and playing tug-of-war.  Today - the third day - he's almost as active as a normal puppy his age should be...though he still tires quickly.  I have no doubt he's going to survive and thrive in our household.

Sean named him Trouble.  He's mostly pit bull - his father is a purebreed American Pit Bull, and his mother is a pit bull/boxer mix.  He's slightly bowlegged, with a deep chest, wide shoulders, and narrow hips.  He's also got a remarkably wide wedge-shaped head, typical of the breed. 

Earlier today, he was getting more active, so we took him outside to play while I hung sheets on the line.  I took a couple videos of him out there...he's still a little emaciated, but looks much better than he did when I first brought him home.

07 June 2011


Not a lengthy post - just wanted to put up a few pictures of the new foster dog, Hansel.  I think he's the most beautiful dog we've fostered, to date.

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.