Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Watching learning happening

I made notes for this post a few weeks ago when homeschooling felt great. Now, when it doesn't feel so successful, I need the post, so here it is!

It's been a pleasure watching my children learn lately. Parker (5)learned to ride a two wheeler after announcing suddenly on a Friday that he wanted to take his training wheels off. I did (hmm, maybe I should have let him do it), and two days later after some practice balancing for a day, and a few encouraging words from Daddy he was off, giving himself challenges (like, ride to the neighbors driveway and back to ours without putting his feet down). We played a writing game, which he took off with, figuring out phonetic spellings for the word he wanted to use. When I corrected his spelling he told me "Mom, you know it really irritates me when you do that." So I stopped. We've been reading about pilgrims in anticipation of a trip to Plimouth Plantation (which was unfortunately postponed). We've also been reading about sharks, including a book from the Scientists in the Field series, which I recommend. It is advanced for him, but he likes it, and I'm sure is learning more than I know from our read-aloud sessions. He's also been playing math games on the computer and asking for more.

Mason (3) is growing, too. He hasn't loved swim lessons, and I told him he didn't have to take them. He loves the water, though. We were at the pool for Parker's lesson, and Mason was jumping off the side to me. He would tell me exactly where he wanted me for his level of learning (closer, no -- farther away). I was impressed that he knew what he needed. His brother teaches him a little about letters, and he asks for more occasionally. He chooses number books to help him learn his numbers (a favorite at our house is Counting Our Way to Maine.

However, last week was very busy. On five days in a row we saw homeschooling friends. Tuesday was a mom's finance meeting, Wednesday I took care of two other homeschooling kids and we all went to gymnastics class, Thursday our regular homeschooling group day, Friday a mushroom hike, and Saturday a mushroom lab for the "older" (five and up) kids. It was too much. My house is a mess, and I'm not seeing the independent learning happening. I'm also not very happy with the Oak Meadow curriculum. My kinder review is that it isn't a good match for my child. My less kind review is that there isn't much to it, and the fairy tales aren't engaging. A while back I asked Parker to write a page of As. He looked at me as if I was crazy, and then we had a great time playing a word (writing) game. Much more relevant to him. At any rate, I was hoping OM would help me create an environment for child-led learning, but it isn't working. I'm trolling around a little, trying to figure out what I'd like to bring into the house next, yet very aware that I shelled out for OM, and I should be a little bit careful what else I buy. I have a (borrowed) copy of Five in a Row which I peruse. I like it, and I love the list of good books, but it also feels a little light to me.

But although I'm not convinced things are going well, Parker seems very happy. He doesn't mention going to Kindergarten, even when he talks to his friend about it. He wasn't affected by my less-than-perfect mood yesterday, and spent the day building cushion castles with his brothers. Today, although he didn't want me to read to him, he spent lots of time creating new and different (but symmetrical) weapons with duplo blocks. When I asked him how many chicken nuggets he would have left if he gave Evan two of his ten, he told me. Although he won't read a book, he shows evidence over and over of being able to read two syllable words. I have to tell myself over and over that he is where he needs to be. That if he needed to go into Kindergarten or even first grade, he would be at grade level.

Well, my first course of action is to clean the house up and re-evaluate what we have that might be of interest. I also need to be more careful about getting too busy, which will be difficult.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Educating women

I’m sure I’m not the only educated woman at home with my kids who has a blog, but I don’t read more than a handful of blogs, so I haven’t read other responses from people like me to the NY Times Article about Yale women planning not to have careers.

So here are some of my thoughts (and my husband’s) – I’m sure someone else has said it better.

First of all, nearly all college educations are not like vocational training. Instead, and education teaches you how to learn. Very few people have a job that exactly utilizes their degree – I didn’t, even when I was working, and my husband doesn’t either, and of course, I don’t now, as a stay-at-home mom. But I use my ability to learn constantly. I read about education and parenting, and provide plenty of information about how the world works. I love reading and learning and I (mostly unconsciously) model that for my kids.

In the past, women have made up a large, unpaid, community workforce, doing volunteer work. I’m not a big volunteer, but I am working on a library committee that is currently working to get a new library or a library addition built. I can’t say I’m exactly using my education, but I’d really like to reject that argument as completely irrelevant, since most people don’t exactly use their educations in their jobs. The committee members do need to be politically savvy, able to deal with finance issues, how to work with town government, architects, accountants, and other professionals. Like any job dealing with professionals, it is useful to speak the same language, and tossing around a credential of sorts or two won't hurt the working relationship any.

There are no guarantees that women will find husbands who also buy into their idea of having a single-income family, or that circumstances won’t require that they work (divorce, for instance, or death of their husband). A good education increases your ability to get a good job, and therefore increases the possibility of working part-time to make the money the family needs. In my own case, I’ve been able to work part-time from home for consulting rates since I’ve had my kids, which is the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.

I think the women interviewed in the article are so young that they don’t have a vision of what they might do after their kids are grown. Perhaps they won’t need or want to work then, either, but if they do, they will have credentials to use.

I would hate to see higher education be lost as a choice for women. I loved getting my degrees (well, at least to some extent). I met fabulous people, I learned tons, I came out of my shell in a way that I’m not sure would have happened in any other venue. Of course, I also met my husband while in college, but that is another story. It’s not like ROTC, where they pay and you owe, is it? Or am I somehow wrong?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gulf reconstruction contracts awarded

I just listened to a Marketplace piece telling how many, many gulf reconstruction projects have already been awarded -- to firms who have been in Washington lobbying to get them. And many of the firms have ties to Bush through campaign contributions. Well, (imagine the sarcasm dripping here) isn't that a good idea.

And how exactly is the area to recover the economy is not revived? What an opportunity to revive the economy and fight poverty (mainly throughout the suspect trickle down effect, but in New Orleans, anything would help) through awarding contracts to local firms who pay local and state taxes, who hire local professionals and workers, who live and shop in the area. But no. Instead the contracts are awarded in a no bid process, before gulf companies even have their feet back under them. And the people and companies benefiting from these contracts will not be living in the area, but instead will be spending their new income elsewhere. Describing it as the last nail in the coffin is the wrong imagery. It's more like walking away from the body of a person who perished unnoticed, without any effort being made to save them, and stepping on them on the way out to reach the jewelry hanging in a tree, put there by the flood.

My only hope is that it will change the political course of this country toward a more progressive model where we take care of all Americans and maybe even others, too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

FEMA's firefighters

Our friends who are firefighters who went to work for FEMA are still waiting for a posting. They flew to Atlanta on Thursday, went to training on Friday and Saturday, and today (Monday) are still waiting for a posting. Very frustrating for hardworking people who left many commitments behind to help those who desperately need it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

2 links

First, I was horrified to read this article about hurricane survivors being turned back at a bridge by surburban police who shot over their heads, reportedly used helicopters to blow down their shelters, and confiscated their food and water. I found the article through Bitch PhD. Today I saw a recap of the article in my local paper, with a New York Times byline. So again blogs are influencing the news (I hypothosize). Hmm, I see the article is now online at Socialist Worker. I first saw it posted at EMSNetwork.org.

Secondly, I saw a suggestion at Half Changed World to write about what we're doing for Katrina survivors. I gave some $$ to the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund. I also just volunteered to coordinate a clothing and etceteras drive for our local La Leche League. We will ship our collected items to a group in Mississippi, who are reportedly ready to receive, sort, and distribute them. I'm a bit nervous about the shipping part -- I know how expensive that can be. I'm hoping we can get subsidized somehow, or maybe even find someone willing to drive a truck for us to Mississippi. My husband didn't think our chances were good for that, but -- why not?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina's babies

I caught the end of a news piece about one of the babies born during or in the aftermath of Katrina and was horrified to see the baby being fed a bottle. I am less of a rabid lactivist than I was when my first was born (and I had a heck of a time breastfeeding him, but that's another story). I'm more understanding now about the choices people make.

However, that said, I think that the health of these babies absolutely requires that they have a steady and sterile supply of breastmilk. There is no telling what conditions these babies will be living in. They may not have reliable supplies of clean water or formula. Those are the conditions under which breastfeeding is clearly safer, and where formula fed babies can face illness and death as a direct result of their feeding method. Will someone please tell anyone delivering babies near the Gulf coast to inform new mothers of the realities of their feeding choices and to encourage in any way possible that these mothers breast feed their babies? I want to tread carefully around the idea that the medical community controls or should control how babies are fed, since I believe strongly in parental choice/informed consent for a variety of medical issues. But I do believe that the medical community has a strong influence on how new mothers feed their babies, and that simply offering "breast or formula" to new mothers in the hurricane-struck area is negligent at least, and shows considerable lack of regard for the future health of the newborn.

Katrina's aftermath

I have been watching, reading, and listening to the coverage of Katrina's aftermath, and I am deeply affected. I feel some kind of survivor guilt, I think. I am shorter tempered with my kids than usual, because I think they should understand how lucky they are to have a house and food and water, and therefore they should not squabble with each other. Yeah, right.

At eleven one night my husband emerged from reading the web and asked if he could go to the gulf coast for up to 30 days as part of a program with FEMA to mobilize firefighters. I asked if he was serious and then said yes, as long as he understood this would be our contribution and not just his. He already knew that -- I shouldn't have worried. It looks as if he will not go, at least not in the next month. Instead our town's only two full-time fire fighters will go – the chief and a firefighter/EMT – and my husband will be acting Chief while they are gone. He is trying to get his company to give him two half days a week to tend to fire department paperwork and inspections. The chief leave his family of six kids (one just started college) behind in the able hands of his wife, whose reaction was apparently similar to mine.

I don't know if I will talk to the two men who are going before they leave, or if my advice would be welcome or new to them, but I would tell them two things: one, they need to take care of themselves so that they don't become other people who need help – they need to eat and drink and sleep well, even when people around them have severe needs. The other thing I would tell them is to believe that they are making a difference, because it can be so hard to see when the problem is so large and the work that a single person (or a team of two) can do is so small. Chipping away at a problem does make a difference. Under difficult circumstances it may be all you can do, but if you do enough of it you will see a difference.

My heart goes out to people who have had to leave their homes behind. I'm very concerned about what their lives will be like in the immediate future. I see pictures of the Astrodome, and I know that I could manage there alone for awhile, but that it would be very, very difficult with my three children. I can't even keep them from running around the library! And how can you get your life going again from a refugee camp? There is no opportunity for any sort of employment or entrepreneurship, as far as I know. These people need to be where they can start to feel that they have a purpose. Presumably there will be reconstruction work starting soon in the Gulf Coast area that will jumpstart the local economy. Can able refugees find work as laborers? Is that an unreasonable idea? They won't be able to do that from Texas. Can shelters be created in the devastated areas so that people can work in reconstruction and provide services to those who are coming in? I hope that somewhere someone is working on a plan for the Katrina refugees who need the shelters that includes opportunities for work and a life that is more than sitting on a cot all day long. This great country should have more to offer than that.