Wednesday, May 22, 2013


* Katherine had her end-of-the-year ballet recital last night. She's been taking classes through the local rec center, and while there are many criticisms to be leveled against Philadelphia's Parks and Rec department (and I say this as an employee of said department), it's hard to beat $150 for 9 months of perfectly decent ballet lessons, costume included.

I don't think I'm just being a fond parent when I say I was really pretty impressed by Katherine's class, which was 6 and 7 year old beginners. Watching the classes, which ranged in age from 3 to teenagers, I also started feeling a lot less guilty about not managing to get Katherine in dance classes at four or five when she first started asking. There were talented outliers, of course, but it looked very much like six or seven is the dividing line between "able to listen well to instruction and learn how to dance" and "flailing around to music, sometimes deliberately in unison (or a semblance thereof)."


We actually made it out to a movie a couple weeks ago! And it wasn't rated G! It was Iron Man 3, as a matter of fact. To give a quick, spoiler-free review, I was really impressed, and think it was actually better than Iron Man 2. Rather than do the action movie franchise of simply rehashing what worked before but ramping it up by making it BIGGER! and MORE EXPLOSIONS!, they tried something different and focused on actual character development. I was also impressed that they took what was a racist villain in the comic and completely turned the concept on its head.


On a final note on the topic of performing, on a whim recently, did a Youtube search on the Not Ready for Bandai Players, the name that the Champaign crowd gave our cosplay group that competed in the cosplay contest at Anime Central for several years. And there are actually two of our performances on Youtube. Sadly, not our award-winning Ranma 1/2 / Lupin III crossover sketch, but I'm glad to see our Maison Ikkoku/Excel Saga crossover is being preserved. What really surprises me is how non-embarrassing it is to watch them. Not just that the dialogue holds up well and is still funny, but watching myself isn't cringe-inducing. And even more astonishing, all of the comments are positive. Really, a pleasant surprise all around.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Momentous, part two

So the other things we did on Mo Willems Friday was go look at a school for Katherine.

I feel like I should back up here and talk a bit about Katherine's reading issues. I've been on record in the past as saying that I felt that she could read better than she claimed - not that hard, since she claimed she couldn't read at all. And to a certain extent, I think that's still true. But while she ended kindergarten reading simple phonics stories, and made it up to the last level of Reading Eggs in first grade which theoretically would have her at a first grade reading level, this year she's been having trouble going past the basic phonics stage. I found us having to go back to Progressive Phonics and work our way through the intermediate level. I also found that 1) she's still having trouble with letter reversals at an age where she really should be growing out of that and 2), she guesses at words based on whatever letter in the word she sees first and 3) seems to have a lot of trouble with visual discrimination. She has a lot of trouble picking an individual object out of a crowded scene, and was complaining a lot about having trouble reading small print. She made dramatic improvements when I started blowing up the font on the computer when reading and starting planning assignments based on the idea that I couldn't expect her to handle recognizing small things (for example, her math assignments often represent numbers visually by using bars for the tens and teeny tiny weeny little dots for the ones. Life got a lot easier when I stopped asking her to count them).

I did get her eyes checked since her glasses didn't seem to be helping at all, this time at an optometrist who uses the spiffy machine that measures your prescription through space-age sourcery. She does in fact have a large degree of astigmatism in her left eye that the last eye doctor didn't pick up at all (in all fairness, she's not terribly cooperative, which is a big reason I wanted the machine). While the new glasses have helped, she hasn't had any great breakthroughs in reading. Now that we've eliminated eye problems, that leaves neurological issues. And here's where I get out of my depth when it comes to reading instruction.

Enter the school, which I found online through a series of links I can't begin to remember. It's like an online charter in that it's a charter licensed through the state but not affiliated with a school district (and in fact has an online option) but it has physical locations with real teachers. It has a focus on dyslexia and dysgraphia, but isn't only for students with learning disabilities, so Katherine will be able to go there whether she has a learning disability or not, and will have a teacher with training in dealing with reading difficulties. They will also evaluate her, something I had been trying to figure out how to get without having to go through our (urban, cash-strapped, somewhat corrupt) school district. In addition:

- It has multiage classes with a student-teacher ratio of 13:1
- They provide individualized instruction that allow students to move at their own pace
- They have multiple breaks in schoolwork throughout the day and spend a lot of time outside. The branch we visited had a garden and was talking about chickens in the fall.
- Their science and social studies curricula are heavily project based
- The school day is structured with the academic block in the morning and electives like art, music and clubs in the afternoon. One of my biggest worries about sending Katherine to school is what a strong introvert she is, and with this schedule, we could potentially bring her home early a couple afternoons a week if it seems like she's getting too stressed out with a seven hour school day.
- The founder's children are homeschooled (although they're going to the school next year) and in fact go to the same day program for homeschoolers Katherine attends, so we don't have to worry about prejudice against homeschooled chidren. Talking to him, he seemed to have many of the same educational philosophies we do.

Really, I think the only way I could make this is a better school is if it were Quaker, but if it were, it wouldn't be a public school, so I'm willing to accept the tradeoff (especially since they have a strong emphasis on teaching conflict resolution).

I admit, there are parts of homeschooling I will definitely miss. When it's going well, it's a lot of fun. I really love how free our days are, and I will miss being able to give Katherine hours of free time to do her own projects. She does the most wonderful, creative things (one of my favorites: when building a hotel out of blocks, she figured out how to make a functioning revolving door), and I hate the thought of her losing the time and energy to do as many of them. I worry that being around people all day will be hard on our little introvert, and how hard it will be for our shy girl to meet a school full of strangers.

But she's also expressing unhappiness with her reading abilities, so it's time to get help. And while homeschooling is great when it's going well, when Katherine is being rebellious and Alec is screeching for help with a computer problem and James is insisting on climbing all over us and the laptop, it makes me want to put my head through a wall, and that's what homeschooling looks like here more often than not. So I'm excited for a good affordable school to send Katherine to so we can get at least one kid out of the house. I'm really looking forward to see how she'll develop when she can finally read well.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Momentous week

It was a big week last week. First, there was James's birthday (30.5 inches, 19 pounds, 10 ounces at his appointment Monday. Finally managed to surpass his 9 month weight by two ounces!). Since his sister had to get to her ballet lesson by 6:30, we had a low-key party that mostly consisted of presenting him with cake, which he found quite pleasing. The sad part is this is the most elaborate party we've ever had for our childrens' first birthdays. had to leave for a conference the day of Katherine's birthday, so she didn't even get a cake until a couple weeks later when we were in Michigan. Alec got tacked onto the end of the song at Katherine's fifth birthday party, the poor middle child.

The other big social thing we did was go to Mo Willems reading on Friday night! Katherine is passionately devoted to the Elephant and Piggie books and has been begging to meet him for over a year. One of her earliest coherent stories was "Piggie Breaks Her Leg," written in kindergarten. Baby's first fanfic. *sniff*

Anyway, I highly recommend trying to go to a Mo Willems book signing the next time he's touring if you have a young Willems fan in your life. He gives a great presentation that is as appealing to children as you could imagine from reading his books. In the q&a, he gave one of the best answers to the question all artists hate, "Where do you get your ideas?" His was "Every month, an envelope comes to my house, and reading the papers inside gives me all sorts of wonderful ideas. That paper is my mortgage." He reiterated in several questions that it isn't about ideas, it's about the work you put in, I think because he wanted to remove the idea that art is something only special people who receive magical idea seeds can do. He started out by introducing himself as an author/illustrator, then asking the children how many of them drew and wrote stories (all of them), and told them that meant they were author/illustrators too. He got his start copying Peanuts comic strips, so he's tremendously encouraging of children using his characters to develop their own stories. Despite the fact he had been signing for nearly two hours, he was very kind and encouraging to Katherine. And he finished his presentation by having teachers and librarians raise their hands, then having the audience clap for us because we're so underappreciated.

So needless to say, we thought it was a great evening with a great author. Totally worth keeping the children out way too late. I would highly encourage you to go to a signing of his, but he just announced that he's taking a year-long sabbatical, so there isn't going to be an opportunity for that for over a year. Well, poop. I can't blame him, since he's been publishing 3-4 books a year for a long time, but I'm not sure how to break it to Katherine that the next couple Elephant and Piggie books coming up are the last for quite a while.

We did something else even bigger last Friday, but I think I will save it for its own post. More tomorrow.