Posts tagged education

The Class of 2013

I am the proud parent of a graduating member of the class of 2013. I will try to refrain from cynicism hereafter, but it must be said that this sentence used to mean something. In my case, it means that my son finished preschool yesterday. He, along with 9 other children now hold that illustrious title of Preschool Graduate. In all fairness, he is the only one of our three children to complete preschool, so I suppose that is noteworthy.

I do not intend to spend my time pointing out our collective fascination with graduations, graduation speeches, commitments to excellence and world change, and of course grad outfits. Actually, I did want to focus on the outifts, come to think of it.

As it were, this year I had two graduates. Yes, I am the lucky mother of a kindergarten graduate as well. Oh, and a grade 3 graduate. It’s practically like being a Triple Crown winner, folks. But I digress. Having had a child graduate from kindergarten in the past, I am familiar with the conventions: put them in a dress shirt, comb their hair, and pray that they are wearing proper footwear by the time they march into the gym to the music of Pomp and Circumstance. (Teddy’s JK Christmas concert had him wearing his winter boots with his dress pants, and Sammy looked like a homeless man for his SK graduation with the tongue of his right shoe hanging out over his toes. This is what happens when 5-year-olds are responsible for their own footwear at school.)

Since Caleb is our first child to attend preschool, however, it perpetually slips my mind that those two days a week he spends colouring and playing under the watchful eye of several patient women qualify as “school.” And so I show up for his Christmas concert on a Wednesday morning by myself, not having thought to invite proud grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, and the family doctor. I miss picture day (although in my defense, we were in Europe at the time) and forget about his “special helper” days.

One would think that I’d have figured it out by June that preschool is a bigger deal than I think it is, but yesterday’s  graduation bore witness to my utter incompetency as a preschool mother yet again. Just when I was patting myself on the back for having remembered all of his recent “special helper days,” the graduation confirmed that the “Preschool Mother of the Year Award” would have to go to someone else. Perhaps to the woman pinning a pink bow in her princess’s long, silky hair. At least she remembered to comb her kids’ hair for graduation.

In my defense, the event was called an “end of the year celebration and BBQ,” which, to me, means lawn chairs, meat from the grill, and possibly a bouncy castle. I saw no problem, therefore, with teaching a piano class from 4 – 5, and leaving my husband with the instructions to have the children ready so that we could leave as soon as I was done. The veggie tray was already waiting to go, so nothing could go wrong.

We showed up at the school and I quickly realized that a veggie tray was not the only thing I was supposed to bring. Properly attired children would have been a good idea. While little girls were wearing their new spring dresses with matching purple bows in their hair, our Caleb was still wearing his two-day-old camouflage shorts and army green sleeveless T-shirt. With giant Freezie stains down the front.

Believe it or not, his personal appearance was the least offensive of our three boys. Teddy wore his trusty faded camouflage shirt (the one he had donned on picture-retake day) and his hair was still matted down with sweat from his bike ride home from school. Sammy’s T-shirt and shorts were about as random a pairing as Coca Cola and Belgian waffles, and his legs bore the telltale dirt streaks from having played in the sandbox and then watering the plants. Suffice it to say that our children’s appearance presented a stark contrast to all the cleavage and high heels in the room.

I probably should have been more specific in my instructions to my husband than, “have the children ready”. In all fairness to him, he was interested in only one thing when he got home from having spent 8 hours in a hot, sticky factory on a hot sticky day: a shower for himself. So as it were, Oliver and I were presentable, while our children look like the progeny of dead-beat crack addicts.

At this point a married couple has two options: harangue one another for incompetence, or laugh about the situation. We opted for the second. Oliver joked that it would be a great idea to gather all the children in the room for a group photo, and then assign everyone the task of finding the Trefz children – similar to “Where’s Waldo.” We laughed at the women who had gone to the effort of coordinating their outifts with their perfect little daughter’s, and took solace in the fact that we will never see most of these people again anyways.

As one would expect, our boys were blissfully unaware of being under-dressed, and were more concerned about the lack of a bouncy castle. The food served as moderate consolation, but everyone was happy to return home without too many tearful good-byes or sentimental reflections on the passing of an era.

For those of you considering preschool for your child, take it from me that it is a bigger deal than you think it is. You’ve been warned.

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Parent-Teacher Interviews

The teachers at our sons’ school are breathing a collective sigh of relief this week. Report cards came home last week, and parents were invited to the annual parent/teacher interview. Actually, the parent/teacher interview of yesteryear is now a parent/teacher/child conference, so last Thursday Teddy and I found ourselves sitting face-to-face with his smiling teacher.

I had no real reason to be nervous, as we’ve never had any indications from her that he is having trouble in the classroom. He seems to be mastering the second grade as well as he did the first. “Teddy’s doing very well,” she assured me. “He’s right where he should be for grade 2.” She showed me some samples of his work and, as I have come to expect, had many positive things to say about our son.

In due course she addressed some of the problems that were creeping up, primarily surrounding the issue of concentration. No surprise there. If you send this kid into his room to put on his PJ’s in the evening he will inevitably become distracted by a picture book lying on the nightstand and that’s where you’ll find him ten minutes later: sitting on the bed with his pants around his ankles, looking at a book. Evidently he is aware of the problem too though, because on his “Student Self-Reflection” (which each student had completed in preparation for the interview) he circled the “I-could-be-doing-this-better” option when asked about staying on task and doing his work.

The teacher showed us samples of his written work and commented that he was a good speller. (YES!) Apparently he’s also a prolific writer, having recently written the longest story in the class about his favourite topic: a visit to Camp Crossroads.

For about 5 years earlier in our marriage Oliver and I would go up to Camp every winter to cook for our church’s youth group at their retreat. Being the oldest, Teddy accompanied us most often, and has very fond memories of these times. His favourite memory is probably working in the industrial kitchen, stacking the myriad empty plastic milk pitchers. His Camp memories are so vivid and so sweet, that this year he has asked that the family go to Camp Crossroads for the weekend of his birthday. This suits us just fine, because it saves us from having to plan a children’s birthday party.

Teddy has been writing about his Camp memories in his free-write book at school, and his teacher informed us that after six pages of writing she had finally asked him to conclude the story and begin a new one. Day after day he would tirelessly write about Camp Crossroads, she said.

This morning I looked at Teddy’s comments on the back of the aforementioned Self-Reflection. Question 1 asked: “What is your favourite part about school?” His answer: gym (of course). Question 2: What is difficult for you? His answer: to concentrate (very insightful) Question 3: What else do you want your teacher to know? Answer: I want her to know what I did at camp kros roads.

Well kid, judging by what we’ve just learned at your parent/teacher interview, I’d say you’ve been successful. Congratulations!

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The Prodigal Returns

He found him while mowing the lawn. When Oliver told me that he had found toad #3 in the grass, I immediately feared the worst. When you’re a ground-dwelling animal so small that you can have a picnic on a postage stamp, and you’re found by a person mowing the lawn, this usually means that you’re either squished or shredded, depending on the path of the mower. Evidently though, my husband has the eyes of a hawk, because he carefully returned our prodigal little amphibian runaway back to his terrarium-dwelling brethren, much to the delight of the family.

What is not so delightful – disturbing, in fact – is that our wandering friend is now almost twice the size of the other boys on the team. While we have been diligent about feeding the little buggers, it is apparent that we cannot keep up with the demand of these bug-eating machines. I am now a woman on a mission: let the poor frogs go so they can fatten up before they have to hibernate for the winter. The problem is convincing their “owner” of that.

For the first day Teddy was in denial: no, the vagrant frog had always been the fattest, he insisted, and the others weren’t that much smaller anyway. By pure chance, the toads all assembled for a little frog huddle as I broached the subject of their release from captivity this morning. Seeing them next to eachother it became clear even to Teddy that yes, the Prodigal is definitely fatter and bigger, and the others need to be released as well.

As we were talking about an exit strategy for the frogs yesterday, Daddy suggested making one of our clay “stepping stones” (an upside-down flower pot-saucer) available as a toad house. It’s crawling with living things on the underside, has a convenient toad-sized hole on top, keeps the tenants safe and warm, and will hopefully keep our much-loved toads “at home” and eating insects in our vegetable patch.

At the outset of this experiment in pet care I was sure we would all learn something. And so it is that our family has learned the following things about toads:

  1. Pets need food. Toads need more than we thought.
  2. Toads eat only live food, and it’s really cool to watch. I must say, though, that I have trouble with the spiders. Seeing wiggly spider legs protruding from hungry toad lips is disturbing. Seeing a toad spit out an unpalatable spider is even worse.
  3. Toads hibernate
  4. Toads need to be fat to hibernate.
  5. Wild animals should be free to be just that: wild.

 Hopefully our toads will like their new toad house and make themselves at home in our vegetable garden. I hope they have a restful winter sleep burrowed snugly under the soil of our lettuce patch. And I do hope they stay off the grass. Oliver’s eyes may not always be so keen.

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Theatre in the Garden

I have been using dracaena spikes in my pots for several years now, but yesterday was the first time I considered that they could become characters in a narrative. It makes perfect sense – at least to a four-year-old and his vivid imagination.

Our children have a fantastic imagination which we work hard at preserving by limiting the amount of time they spend in front of screens. They don’t always understand the reason for our limits, but mostly they just enjoy making up stories where cars have parties in houses or plastic bugs ride shotgun in big cars. At age 4, Sammy is just now getting to an age where his imagination is taking off, making him a great playmate for 6-year-old Teddy. Sammy can make a game or story out of pretty much anything – including dracaena spikes.

Yesterday I overheard him talking “to himself” on the front porch. Curious, I poked my head around the corner to see what he was up to. I should mention that Sammy has a fascination with the flower bed at the front of the house, probably because up until recently, he was not allowed to be there without direct supervision. Last summer he would slip away undetected and we would find him in the front flower bed “harvesting” hosta leaves like he had seen me do with my lettuce. The front bed became off-limits until this summer.

So there he stood yesterday with a spike in each hand, acting out the story of David and Goliath. One spike would say, “WHO WILL FIGHT ME?!?” in a really big voice, to which the other would answer confidently, “I will!” The first spike would be hit with a stone from the second spike’s sling, and the timeless story would conclude by the first spike saying, “pthblt” and falling over, dead.

Forget flannel boards in Sunday School or smart boards in school. The only visual aid kids really need for learning are plants!

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Suburban Strawberries

perfect homegrown strawberries

It is June, and for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, that means strawberry season. Strawberry season at our house begins after weeks of watching the agonizingly slow succession from bud, to blossom, to hard, green fruit, and finally to glorious red morsel of horticultural perfection. That first juicy berry is carefully and dutifully divided up five ways so that each member of the family can partake of the elements of this annual ritual. I am not exaggerating when I say that the strawberries from our patch are sweeter than any local or imported fruit we have ever tasted. I’m sure it’s because we don’t irrigate our berries, but I like to think it’s simply a reflection of our joy in growing them.

 

Our children love to pick strawberries. Let me rephrase that. Our children love to eat strawberries. At the age of six – and being a self-starter by nature – Teddy is a real help in the task of harvesting. When he comes home from school he heads to the patch and eats. If Oli or I are harvesting Teddy will gladly pitch in and help fill the bowl. His younger brother Sammy, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

 

Today I suggested Sam come outside with me to do some weeding in the garden.
“Yay!” he cried as he ran to the door to put on his shoes. His 4-year-old enthusiasm lasted about 5 minutes, at which point he had pulled out about 4 weeds and announced he was “boiling” and needed to stop.

 

I suggested he get a bowl from the house to harvest a few berries, thinking that would entice him to stay with me in the garden for a little while longer. Initially he wasn’t too thrilled to have to walk all the way back into the kitchen (!) to get the bowl, but once I assured him that he could also eat berries while picking them, he perked right up and went to fetch the bowl.

 

Boiling no more, he began picking, informing me of every ripe berry he found. At one point he proudly showed me what he had picked. “Look Mommy! Look at my bowl!” It didn’t take long to count the four strawberries that constituted his harvest. Instead of picking more, Sam slowly ate the few strawberries that were left in his bowl, at which point I took over the strawberry picking. This suited him just fine, since he was now relieved of the task of picking, and he could eat from the bowl that was becoming full faster than he could eat. When it became too hot for him he suggested I go push him on the swing for a while. Sure, Sam.

 

Sensing a teachable moment I explained to Sam that he cannot have it both ways: have Mommy pick his berries while simultaneously pushing him on the swing. In fact, after a while, I cut off the berry supply, explaining that pickers get to eat and kids who wait to be served will have to wait a long time.

 

What can I say, except that kids are not born with an appreciation for work! Left to their own devices they will most likely chose the path of least resistance and leave the work for the other people in their lives: their parents, their siblings, their roommates, or their spouses.

 

our open-air grocery store

Lucky for him, Sam is just beginning his apprenticeship as a garden helper. Other program points in the coming years will include weeding (and sticking to it), working with compost, tilling the soil and of course, harvesting the produce. That little vegetable patch will teach our children a very valuable life lesson: the joy of breaking a sweat working, and the thrill of a job well done when they bite into that first ripe strawberry.

 

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Living on the Wild Side

“Sammy, do you love your little brother?” I asked Sammy after reading a touchy-feely book about a big brother welcoming his little sister into the family.
“Not really,” Sammy answered after a few moments’ thought.

“Would you have been happier with a sister?” I asked, curious.

“No,” he mused. “That would be a She,” he concluded, as though that were explanation enough.

“And you don’t like She’s?” I prodded.

“No.” A three-year-old’s favourite word.

“But you just played with some girls this morning. Wasn’t that fun?”

“No. They’re only fun at their house.”

“You mean when you play with them at their house, or when they play with other girls at their house?” I asked.

“When they play at their house with other girls,” Sammy answered without any hesitation.

When I consider the daughters of my friends, I have to wonder whether our boys’ disinterest in the gentler sex is actually to their benefit. I have an inkling that the mothers of those sweet little princesses would have their reservations about our sons’ most recent imaginative play: pretending to be top carnivores, or worse, scavengers.

Their fascination with the intricacies of the food chain stems from their love of non-fiction books (Teddy just received the “Student of the Month” award for his independent animal research at school) and Sammy’s favourite animal show, “Zaboomafoo.” They are also enamoured with dinosaurs and their classification as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. (As it turns out, there are even “insectivores”. Who knew?)

A few weeks ago they were playing with play-dough. I had recently made a big batch of brightly-coloured blue play-dough to inspire our boys to sculpt whatever they could dream up: cinnamon buns, bunnies, eggs, stamps of flowers…the opportunities are endless with play-dough. As it turns out though, I obviously still think like a girl, because what my boys ended up using the big lump of dough for was to represent a big hunk of carrion (a dead animal, for those of you who don’t know) which was being eaten by a plastic hippo and a plastic fish (the two animals they have in their play-dough collection). At one point the fish was “stuck” in the heap of deceased animal flesh, calling out to the hippo to “come and save me! I’m stuck! Start eating right here!” Yum.

One of the most common questions from the boys for a while was, “is _____ meat?” (fill in the blank with an animal name.) Now they will make statements about animals being “meat”. They discuss which animal is meat for which other animal, and even wonder whether we humans are meat. I’m still not sure how to field that one. Grizzlies are of particular concern to them, and they often want to know how far away we live from the bears.

Sammy, who has a particular fascination with animals, role-plays animal personas all the time. When he is alone he is often a peace-loving species, high-lighting the animal’s qualities by describing it as an animal that “is quiet” or “is a good listener.” When Teddy gets home from school though, be prepared for some serious stalking of prey, growling, and pouncing. The two of them set to attacking toy horses or pillows, taking them down with their “sharp claws,” and chasing away the competing carnivore who would threaten to steal their kill. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which boy secures the most kill and which one is chased away most often.

Some people may consider the boys’ pastime reflective of a morbid fascination with death. I disagree: Oliver and I feel like we’re watching a nature flick in which the young animals learn to hunt and fight at a young age by wrangling with their fellow yearlings. Our gentler Sammy is receiving an education in being more assertive in the face of a very dominant alpha male, which will no doubt stand him in good stead as he begins kindergarten next year. We have seen that boys tend to gravitate towards games that involve hunting or killing, and I confess to preferring this game over the imaginary killing of people using light-sabers or worse. If nothing else, it has certainly reinforced the timeless truth once again that kids will act out what they see, read, and hear!

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