Archive for the ‘General’ Category

From me to you

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Thank YouImage by Katharina Friederike

Thank you…

…for making the grocery list, shopping, finding discounts and deals, remembering to buy gluten or lactose free, selecting the sparkling cider for the kids, and buying two kinds of whipped cream.

…for cleaning the house, even the bathroom you usually ignore, in time for company or family.

…for getting up early on the holiday to start the turkey while everyone else sleeps in.

…for making a huge mess in your kitchen and then cleaning it up on what is a day off for most people.

…for the lovely table setting, the well timed coordinated finish of all the dishes.

…for hosting or being hosted and not minding either.

…for bringing your best pie or side dish to your mother-in-law’s, and driving on the busiest travel day of the year.

…for stopping to help a sad child, for changing a diaper, for putting up with grouchiness and hungry tummies while the real meal is cooking, for being taken for granted.

Thank you for being the glue of the family, the backbone of tradition, and for the cheerful way you hunker down to create memories and meals.

Thank you for what is hidden from view (how you let the insult slide, how you held back a snappy retort, how you stood up for yourself inside).

Thank you for doing what is expected, even if you wish it weren’t expected of you.

Thank you for caring and carrying on tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving week!

–julie

Cross-posted on facebook.

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April: National Poetry Month

Monday, April 1st, 2013

SPECIAL OFFER THIS WEEK!

To get you started, check out our SPECIAL:

The Arrow Poetry Guide is only $4.99 this week (April 1-8). Regular price: $9.95.

 

    You Read to Me...

 

If you’ve never tried the Tuesday Poetry Teatimes, this is the month to start! There are many benefits to reading poetry, not the least of which is the sugar-sweet fun of rhyme, and the playful pop of alliteration and consonance as words trip their way over your tongue.

For the intimidated (you know who you are—you worry that you don’t “get” poetry or that you’ll fail at discovering meanings and themes and imagery), I have tips to make it easy for you to wade into these (I promise) friendly waters.
 

    Bapa

 

  1. Start with limericks and nursery rhymes. They’re easy to read/say, easy to understand (insofar as understanding even matters), and easy to repeat (leading your family in reciting them together. I don’t know why Jack jumped a candlestick or how an old woman turned a shoe into a family home, but for children, these images are direct and delightful. And that’s all that matters in this poetry ready. You’re delighting in sound, silly images, words, and linguistic music. You get to “go dense” on meaning for a change and know that that’s okay!
  2.  

  3. Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. Get their books, ready them, enjoy them. One poem at a time— no need to read like a chapter book. Note that these two “get” children. They share the same sense of humor and level of insight that children enjoy.
  4.  

  5. Riddles and jokes are a kind of poetry. They may not rhyme and they don’t follow poetic structure, exactly. But they are all about puns and language play. Include them in your poetry teatimes.
  6.  

  7. Read poems in tandem. The poetry book featured above is one my grandfather gave me in junior high (you can tell it was well-loved as the frayed paper cover indicates). In it is a collection of poems that are written in alternating blue and black ink. Each reader picks a color and together, two people read a poem aloud! This book You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You is still in print, if you want to try it.

That’s enough to get your started. Seriously!

Set the table for tea, pull out the Oreo cookies or bake a batch of brownies or slice Pippin apples! Whatever is your family’s pleasure. Then, read aloud, laugh, read to yourself, try your hand at making your own rhymes, and notice all the while that you’re doing what you always say you want to do—bringing learning to life.

We’ll post some poetry resources on the blog over the course of the month so stay tuned!

SPECIAL OFFER THIS WEEK!

To get you started, check out our SPECIAL:

The Arrow Poetry Guide is only $4.99 this week (April 1-8). Regular price: $9.95.

Friday Freewrite: Stubborn

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Stubborn
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Stubborn” by Stacy Wachter

Like a Mule!
Describe a time you were stubborn.

Snow day

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

World in white #snow #snowday

Wish-giving

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

MIlesHorse

Today’s love tip:

If you can’t give your child what she wants, you can give it to her in a wish.

For instance, if she tells you she wants her own horse (yet you live in an apartment and don’t have the funds or lifestyle to support a horse), you don’t need to crush the vision with practicalities. Instead, give it to her in a wishful fantasy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to own a horse?
What would you name it? Where would you ride it? What would it look like?
Do you know what type of horse you’d want to own? Shall we look them up online and see?
Would you want to show the horse in competitions? Ride the horse over jumps? Learn dressage?
Or would you prefer to ride bareback over hills alone, looking at the sunset?

Of course you don’t simply shoot questions at her as if pulling the trigger to a BB gun. You want to give her the chance to live her fantasy with you for a little emotional vacation. Let her describe the horse’s mane and color, where she would ride, how she would care for the horse, why a horse would be such a dear companion at this stage in her life.

If possible, assist the fantasy with practical possibilities even if they fall short of the ultimate fantasy:

  • Maybe we can ride horses at the local stable this month.
  • How about we check out some good old films about horses and watch those over the next week?
  • Let’s pick a horse to follow in the upcoming series of horse races and get to know its life story.
  • I know there’s a saddle shop in town. Maybe we can learn how they are made, feel the smooth leather with our hands, and ask about local horseback riding while we’re there.
  • I wonder if we can take a family vacation to a dude ranch one year.
  • Our homeschool group may have a family with a horse we can visit. Let’s ask.

The thing about kids is that they enjoy possibilities far more than we do. They aren’t jaded, haven’t had their dreams dashed, don’t manage the checkbook, aren’t limited in their energy. There’s no need to “smack down a dream” before it has a chance to emerge. Give it some breathing room—allow it to manifest in conversation, illustrations, reading, narration, writing, and play. Then find the little pieces of the fantasy that you can support/provide, and find a way to incorporate these into your child’s life.

Sometimes magic happens and the little bit of wind you blow into those sails leads to the fulfillment of the bigger dream, too. Kids have a way of conjuring wonderfulness from nothing, which is one of the reasons we love having them in our lives.

Wishful thinking is a gift, not a thing to be disparaged.

The Snare of Perfectionism

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

MyPictureTrends happen for a reason. The sudden spate of books and conferences exposing the myth of “the perfect mother” is a cultural admission that women feel a lot of pressure to both be mothers (you are less of a woman if you choose not to be a mother), and then to do that task “perfectly” however that is defined.

When women admit that being “a perfect mother” is not possible, a collective sigh of relief follows. Moms make mistakes and have legitimate worries:

  • forget doctors’ appts,
  • don’t wash their children’s hair often enough,
  • feed the children sugary treats to stop the crying,
  • yell when they are frustrated,
  • are especially anxious when one of their children throws a punch or steals a toy.

Children become an extension of the mother’s body and identity—
a beyond-my-control extension of me that tells me (and others) about me.

Perfection, as it is defined for women, often includes non-motherly tasks as well, like being well coiffed, or keeping an organized and tidy home. Mothering doesn’t depend on either of these, though. Perhaps the “perfection” label is more about trying to be a woman who matches culturally-assigned stereotypes of female married+children adulthood.

Reading these discussions has left me a little cold. While I’ve had my share of guilt about motherly missteps (lecturing a child rather than hearing her, switching curriculum too swiftly without proper preparation, letting one child’s vocal needs drown out another child’s quieter ones) I don’t think I ever worried about having the right haircut while my children were young. Getting to go for a haircut once in a while was treat enough!

And even though stepping on a cluster of Legos in the middle of the night with a baby in my tired arms drove me to the brink of swearing on more than one occasion, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to keep a perfectly neat home, nor did I feel particularly embarrassed by evidence of children strewn throughout the living spaces.

The pressure I felt (and still feel!) had less to do with my external presentation (how I appeared as a woman, mother, wife) and more to do with significance:

  • Am I mattering?
  • Am I making the ultimate difference?
  • Am I doing the right things to ensure the right results?

The pressure in mothering as a home educator is even more insidious. Not only do you feel it matters that your children eat healthy lunches (that are hot, predictable, and require clean-up midday), but you must also make “healthy” curriculum choices and adopt the “right-est” educational philosophy. You scour the Internet for the Magic List of principles and practices that ensure your children will be well-socialized, well-educated, and well-behaved people.

The danger of perfectionism kicks in not because you are
trying to convey an image of success.

 

You actually want to be successful.

Measuring success is a huge part of our culture—and that measurement is usually exacted by others who are in the same soup, trying to get to the same place. When we feel “measured against a criteria” (in other words, “judged”), that’s when we move ourselves toward the impossible standard of perfectionism. We double down and try harder to apply the methods and madnesses of a system. We stop hearing our own voices inside and we lose perspective.

What frees us isn’t simply agreeing that none of us is perfect (oh well) so let’s just do the best we can and hope for the best. Hey, let’s be kinder to each other and share our stories of all the mistakes we make every day. And let’s laugh about it (ha ha). Certainly there is some therapy to be had in those exchanges. For sure!

But for me, comic relief never freed me. I had high expectations for my family and my efforts. I wasn’t about to give those up just because of the snare of perfectionism or the judgment of others. And occasionally, some of the examples of what passed for mere imperfection appeared to be important flaws to notice and address.

What’s helped? Here’s my short list. It’s not meant to be a new standard, but I hope it inspires some of you to share what’s helping you, right now.

  1. Breaking rules. The temptation is so strong to do what the rule-makers say to the letter, believing that it means I am protected from failure. When I apply the rules, I stop listening to my children and to my life. I put my faith in practices ahead of relationships. For instance, I breastfed my kids. A false nipple equalled heresy. The day I discovered that a pacifier helped my son sleep was a day of liberation. We happily breastfed for nearly 3 years, but knowing he could nap without me saved my sanity and made me a better mother. Breaking a rule, based on my son’s needs (and mine) was good for us.
  2.  

  3. Paying attention. I sometimes became distracted by principles and missed the really cool thing happening under my nose. For instance, I had read that starting school work right after breakfast every day led to a quiet expectation that “school” would happen and we would avoid power struggles. But the day I woke up and saw sheet forts and kids in dress up clothes and apples cut into tiny pieces for food told me that “school” was already happening. I didn’t apply the principle, that day.
  4.  

  5. Experimenting. I used to say to my friends that I would unschool my children to find out if it worked so they wouldn’t have to. I thought of unschooling as a risk and as something to embrace or explore, but I chose not to see it as the defining story of my family. That attitude, by the way, is not often welcome in unschooling settings. And that discovery unsettled me for a time. Then I realized: this is my unique family story and I’m writing it with my kids and their dad. I am not defined by someone else’s vision, even if their ideas can contribute good things to us.
  6.  

  7. Getting help. Maybe it’s my Malibu upbringing, but I’m a big-believer in therapy and support groups. Perspective doesn’t often come online to the degree we need it. The community you develop with friends across the miles via the Internet is legitimately supportive, loving, and often insightful. But those friends don’t know your kids. They haven’t been in your home. They aren’t aware of your marriage dynamic, or your family of origin. They don’t even really know what you’re like—they can’t hear your tone of voice or see how you use your hands or how long you talk before you let the other person get a word in edgewise. When you hit a wall emotionally at home, where you feel like you’re failing, and you can’t see your own neuroses, get in-person help. You want a safe space to think about the particularity of your family and life. You want to get away from systems that dictate their terms to you and tempt you to slavish devotion. You want gentle, kind, reflective space to consider a slew of options, not just the ones sanctioned “by the group.”

The bottom line is this:

My connection to my kids matters the most.

When we are connected, no matter how we’ve arrived at that space, I know we’re okay.

And that feels perfectly fine to me.

DSCN3398.JPG

3 Spectacular Strategies for Success

Monday, February 18th, 2013

The expression, “Go big or go home!” might apply here (though for our purposes, “Go big AT home” would be more appropriate). However, one of the 3 Spectacular Strategies is about going really really small, as in tiny, as in minisculilio (perhaps the reframe might be: “Go so small it’s like this HUGE commitment to staying in the confines of ‘going really really tiny’—maybe like “Going Big INTO Small!”).

Let me set the context. Sometimes we homeschooling parents assemble all these Reasonable Goals for the school year. We believe in plodding along, managing our children’s progress, assessing their growth and making incremental, prudent adjustments. We divvy up the workbook into its perfectly apportioned pages-to-be-done-each-day for the 180 day school year and then, carefully, carry out the plan one-painstaking-day-at-a-time, requiring compliance from the students (our beloved cherubs), at times deviating from the Sacred Plan into a Cul-de-sac of Guilt when we unwillingly take a day off…

Then we ramp up the familiar and try again. And again. And… a… gain.

Then we hit the wall of resistance, or poor performance, or tedium, and we wonder how we can get back on track.

Sound familiar? Sound exhausting? Sound crazy-making?

Break the cycle.

Ditch the plan… for these 3 strategies.

1. Go BIG!!

You want to study the Gold Rush? BUILD your own gold mining sluice from scratch for the next week. Or next two weeks. Get the wood, find a design, order some fool’s gold from an online store, grab a hammer and nails, saw and saw horses, and put the thing together. For the whole two weeks. No grammar lessons. No math pages. No phonics. Just pure bigtime indulgence throwing educational caution (and the nagging voice of the Ghost-of-Public-School-Past) to the wind!

Don’t worry if you fail at sluice-building (half the time you go big, you will). So much learning happens in the process of a failed sluice project! You can always shift gears and bury the fool’s gold in your sandbox. Add water and use pie tins to swish the gold into view.

Invite friends to help find gold. Sing “O Susanna.” Eat sugared beans with hot dogs. Make sarsaparilla from scratch. Wear Levi’s and flannel shirts. Pin the gold nugget on a map of Sutter’s Creek!

Ditch the plodding text book study. Stop the labor of daily grind learning. Instead when you come across a worthy topic, Go Big!

Other examples of Going Big (all at once, all hands on deck, all in, no other competing subjects):

  • Colonial Times: Dye fabric with beets, onion skins, and paprika. Dip candles. Make cardboard stocks and pose in them. Sing “Yankee Doodle.” Assemble colored paper flags and stick a circle of silver or white stars to represent the colonies on the flag. Write letters on parchment with fountain pens and seal them with sealing wax.
  •  

  • Birds: Observe them. Get a field guide and binoculars; identify them. Go to places where birds are (nature centers, woods, beaches, the zoo). Take a birding walk with a local birding group. Name the birds that come to your backyard. Feed them. Draw them. Photograph them. Get a raw chicken and observe and name all the parts as you manipulate the body. Identify where the feathers attached themselves. Show the innards. Discuss. Dissect an owl pellet. Collect feathers. Watch Youtube videos of eggs hatching. Watch “Winged Migration” (the film).
  •  

  • Cursive handwriting: Make a bug using your cursive handwriting. Take a white sheet of paper, fold it lengthwise in half, turn it sideways so the middle of the page is the line you write on. Handwrite (in soft pencil led) your first name (use italics for letters that ordinarily go below the line in cursive). Fold the page back together and rub until the mirror impression shows on the flip side. Open the page. Trace over the mirrored impression of the name so it stands out. Color the “name” to look like a bug! Try other words and make more bugs. Cut them out and mount them on the kitchen windows. (See photos for the process.)

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2. Go Really Really Small

The temptation is to do more, better, and different all the time. But what if you flip the script? Choose deliberately to do only one tiny part of the lesson today. Call this event: “The Mini Lesson.” It could become a “thing” you go to when kids are exhausted and you need to change the tone of the home. You might yell: “Time for a Mini Lesson!”

For instance, what if you choose to require the barest minimum-est amount of the required “thing”? What if you told your kids:

“You only have to do one math problem today, but I want to see you get the right answer. You can spend as much or as little time as you need. Just be sure you get the answer right. If you do, there’s a surprise for you. Yes, you can ask me for help or to check as you go and I’ll hint at the errors for you to fix.”

Then offer your child one problem that uses the math concepts you want to emphasize. For instance, if you are working with addition and subtraction, create a problem that uses both: (7+6) — (5+1) = ? You can certainly make the problem more or less complex depending on the skill you want to teach. It might be a perfect time to do ONE word problem.

Create a meaningful really little reward:

    a pack of gum,
    a tin of mints,
    a row of stickers,
    a rub-on tattoo,
    a new pencil,
    lip balm,
    two cookies,
    a bouncy ball,
    a mini Slinky.

Naturally, you can use the same really really small lesson with handwriting: One letter, one time (perfect, beautiful, clear, proportioned, accurate). Or one word, or one sentence. Give full attention to perfectly shaped letters. Expect accurate copying, correct letter-to-letter correspondence. Keep the selection short. Admire it when it’s complete.

Apply the really really small lesson to a household practice:
Set the timer for one minute. Pick up toys on the floor for a single minute, in a race, to get as many off the ground as possible. Do it twice that day… Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. You can yell “Ready set go!” and “Ding! You’re done.” Make it a community challenge: “If the whole floor gets cleared, we all get gum!”

A really really small lesson can be a single sentence that needs editing (a mini mini version of the Reverse Dictation practice in the Arrow, Boomerang, and The Writer’s Jungle).

A really really small lesson could be one logic puzzle, or one fact memorized, or one page of a book read aloud. Pick the item you are worried about, pick one short requirement, and use this mini lesson format to give it square, deep, brief attention.

3. Collaborate

Why go it alone? Put your kids together in pairs. Have the older teach the younger. Capitalize on the elder children’s maturity and advanced skills. The principle that applies: “You learn more when you teach!”

If one child needs to drill multiplication tables, send the one who knows them outdoors with the one learning them. Give them a frisbee and tell the older one to call out “3 times 4,” and the other will toss it back: 12!

Have a younger child read aloud to an older child as she learns to read.

Ask a younger and older child to bake together. Empower an older sibling to teach a younger sibling to:

    use the washing machine,
    tie shoes,
    tell time,
    hopscotch,
    find the main idea in a paragraph,
    identify the hero and the villain in a movie,
    put together a puzzle,
    work a page of sentences in Winston Grammar,
    create a list of homonyms,
    memorize a nursery rhyme or small poem…

The point is—have your kids do stuff together, with the bigger kids in the role of teacher or leader.

As a collaborating family, you can create a slew of ideas together to make history come to life, for example. Each child contributes an idea and then you all do them as a family, one at a time, until they are completed. For instance, if you study a country like Japan, you might have several ideas created by the kids:

  • Craft tissue paper cherry blossoms
  • Make a felt Japanese flag
  • Eat tempura with chopsticks
  • Sit on the floor with cushions to eat the meal at a coffee table
  • Draw a map of Japan
  • Learn Japanese greetings, including how to bow
  • Watch anime!
  • Perform a Japanese tea ceremony

Not all ideas have to come from you! On the contrary, kids love knowing that they made a meaningful contribution to the project. Don’t rule out the weird ideas—”I want to see a Komodo Dragon!” Find out where one lives (at a zoo?) and go to it. Or at the least, find a documentary to watch together to learn about the creature. Giving each person something to contribute helps the whole team to feel invested. Learning will happen for each person in a grade appropriate way, according to their skills. That’s what you want!

Lastly, you can add families to your projects any time you feel lonely. Two families creating a henna party to celebrate “1001 Arabian Nights” is much more fun than one! Studying tide pools with your best friends at the beach for a picnic is better than going alone. You get the idea.

To review:
Go Big!
Go really really small…
~Collaborate~

Tell me how it goes (or has gone, if you already live this way).

Happy Valentine’s Day: Strawberry Shortcake Edition

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Strawberry Shortcake
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Our favorite Valentine’s Day treat is Strawberry Shortcake.
 
I like to make the shortcake from scratch. It has great crumbly, buttery texture and is warm from the oven. For those of you who feel ambitious and inspired, here’s the recipe I use from my old stalwart battle-ax: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook:
 
 
 
 

Shortcake

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup milk
Berries, slightly sweetened
Heavy cream (whipped)

Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Butter and lightly flour an 8 inch cake pan or a cookie sheet. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter in bits and work it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly stir in the milk, using just enough to hold the dough together. Turn onto a floured board and knead for a minute or two. Pat the dough into the cake pan, or roll and pat it 3/4 inch thick and cut it into eight 2-inch rounds, using a biscuit cutter. Arrange the rounds on a cookie sheet and bake them for 10-12 minutes, or the larger cake for 12-15 minutes. Split with two forks while still warm, butter, fill with sugared fruit or berries, and serve warm with whipped cream.

The large disc shortcake makes a dramatic appearance on a table (you split the entire cake, butter its insides, heap on the berries, and add whipped cream on top). Cutting and serving it is less artful of an impression for the individual dish, but as long as everyone beheld the original masterpiece, a bit of a mess is forgiven.

I’ve enjoyed creating the smaller, individual biscuit-size shortcakes when serving my family. The kids love seeing their own miniature cake look exotic and particularly whipped cream-special just for them. So we usually use the biscuit cutter version of the shortcake for our family strawberry shortcake parties. The photo is from 2007, and is of one of our small biscuit shortcakes.

This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! Hope you have a wonderful day.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

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Great phone call today. Here’s the gist:

Mom: What do I do when my son retells the details of a book or movie or story, but he can’t tell me the overarching narrative that goes with it? Like he can’t say the main plot points. He rambles and gets caught up in details that are non-essential to the plot, but he tells them with so much accuracy and depth, I hate to stop him.

Her son is 11.

My response:
Adults summarize. They can pick out the main points and sequence them. They’ve read 1000s of stories, watched as many films, and are well aware of the narrative arc (plot diagram) by virtue of time on the planet and years logged reading/absorbing “story.”

Kids don’t have this background, and can’t summarize like you. They’re younger. Story is fresh for them. They are beguiled by subplots and character quirks and twists. They chase the shiny object called “weapons,” “cute puppies,” “sassy friends,” “weird creatures,” “magic spells” or “epic battles” and report all that is filling their imaginations to the brink of enthusiasm. When you ask them to tell you about the story, the most exciting, fascinating points overflow. They can’t “sort” the images and emotions. They aren’t likely to sequence events into the narrative arc. They retell the memorable moments, with detail, reliving them in front of you.

Of course, most adults have completely lost the ability to trap details to that extent. Our brains are too busy for detail. We save the important markers and ditch the quirky dialog or style of weaponry. Children can retell with amazing accuracy.. We have too many digits, words, experiences, memories, obligations in the way of uncluttered retelling. We hang onto the big picture and file it under “mental notecard” – as in, if asked, this is what I share.

Being able to summarize is a fairly sophisticated skill. It is possible to cultivate, but please don’t think it a superior skill to retelling in detail. For now, here’s how I want you to proceed:

Start by listening, really closely. Ask real questions that help you understand who, what, where, and when as the child relates the particular scene. You can jot down the responses on separate sheets of paper per scene or image or dialog. Keep these on a table in front of you. Ask for key details (names, places, why such-and-such happened).

Print a plot diagram (a simple one).

Then, with these notes in front of you both, ask some of these questions to help sort the information just shared:

1. Pick up one of the stories: Did this event happen at the beginning, or in the middle, or near the end of the story/film/book? Move the note you took to the right place on the table along the narrative arc. Do that for each of the scenes you’ve jotted down.

2. Ask the child what moment decided the outcome (the climax)? It may be difficult to identify the single one (there are lots of sub-plots in most stories). But the BIG one happens near the end. So direct your child’s attention to the end of the plot line. You can even discuss ones that were important along the way, but weren’t the final key determining factor. That’s a good conversation to have!

3. Talk about the characters. Which character is the most important to the story (without whom, there would be no story)? It’s usually obvious, but not always! The main character is called “the protagonist” and that is the one who is a part of the climax. We figure out who is important by how much we care about what happens to that character. A guide to identifying that character, then, is “Whose story do we care the most about?” Of course, your child may love a character in the subplot, but then you can expand backwards and say, “Who do you think the author wants us to care most about?” That will help differentiate.

4. Now talk about the antagonist (the character that wants to thwart the goal of the main character). Who stands to gain by interrupting the progress of the protagonist?

5. Lastly, ask about the events your child narrated to you. Are these related to the protagonist’s plight? Or are they about side-kick characters? If they are “side-kick characters,” we call these scenes part of the “sub-plot.” A sub-plot keeps the story interesting, adds detail to the main plot, and supplies a distraction or complication when the author needs one. Figure out whether the memorable scenes are plot or subplot.

Once you’ve collected this data, see if you can put it in a meaningful whole. You might narrate back to your child all the information you’ve collected and demonstrate what it means to put it in sequence. Once you’ve done that, you can ask your child to correct you, add to it, or try his/her own hand at it! Overtime, you can ask the child to take over and create the narration from this material from scratch.

What I hope you’ll take from this post:
Work with what your kids give you! Help them sort it out. Model what it looks like when it matches what you are hoping to hear. Then give them the chance to do it, with your help. Do not abandon your child to your expectations and then wring your hands when they fail. Teach! That’s your job and your privilege.

Vertigo

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

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A 21 year old me stood in the shower, carefully drawing the razor up the back of my leg, across the soft skin behind the knee, the way you do when you’re a girl who’s knicked herself within an inch of bleeding out at age 15. My head twirled on its neck, and a loud pi-n-n-n-n-g-g-g-g-g filled my ears as water rushed side-to-side in my skull. The razor slid from my fingers, echoing a click-clack-click as it cascaded to the tub floor and the world went black.

My awareness dawned slowly from some grey muffled foggy pit millennia or seconds later, slumped over the edge of the bathtub, ribs throbbing, crying for no reason at all and all the reasons in the world. I looked around. Is this my bathroom? Do I live here?

And then I remembered—shaving cream slid down my leg, water dripped from my hair, tears leaked from my eyes.

I had fainted. It was the first time, but not the last. I would faint every few years—in bathrooms, at a friend’s house, once while trying to buy a newly killed chicken at a crowded stall in Morocco while 7 months pregnant! I have a scar on my nose from smashing into the diaper pail 21 years ago.

The distinctive feature of each faint, though—one I came to know and respect—vertigo. My doctor gave the syndrome a fancy Latin moniker, but translated meant: We don’t know why you have this unnamed sort of vertigo but clearly you do.

He ripped off a scribbled prescription from his white pad: “Get sleep. Stay hydrated. Pay attention to signs, sit down, and protect yourself with a pillow.”

Thanks Doc.

But it’s what I do. There’s no cure. It’s enough, weirdly.

I tried to “cure myself” many times. I read books, studied vertigo syndromes. I have been known to crawl on all fours across a living room floor to avoid having to stop supervising small children because standing would have “brought it on.” My then-husband gave me a dose of niacin once (his dad took it to help with fainting). Being that neither of us are medically trained, the dose was too high and my skin became an inferno trap for my soul. My fleshy surface glowed red like Mars, and my ears wheezed smoke like a minion of Satan. I can still remember the scary trapped feeling… but I didn’t pass out! Still, not worth it.

I don’t know when it happened, but I realized eventually that I had a condition; I could befriend and live with it (or at least, not slam the door in its face when it turned up unannounced) or I could go on fighting it and agonizing over why or how or what it meant.

The thing about vertigo is that it screws with your basic assumptions about life on planet earth. Gravity is no longer the reliable old friend, gluing your feet to the floor. Instead, your body, untethered, floats or zig-zags, your head lurches sideways, and your limbs grab hold of whatever outstretched object pretends assistance. Coaching doesn’t fix it: “Hold my hand Julie! Lean on me. Don’t give in!”

The only help is awareness of the warning signs, and preparing for the crash landing. Which I do now: As the pi-n-n-n-n-g-g-g-g-g begins its whisper and drives to crescendo, as my eyes drain the color from the room, as my head wheels its merry-go-round spin, I grab the nearest pillow and get on the ground. I lean my forehead into the cushion, breathing, eyes-closed, until all symptoms pass. And they do pass. And I don’t faint. My nose has no new scars in the last 20+ years.

It’s tempting to force an analogy about homeschool burn out, or the exhaustion of mothering, or the uneasiness in your marriage, or the frightening spectre of your own unexplained illness. I esteem you more highly. I recently looked at a photo of my family taken in 2005 on our family trip to Italy. I couldn’t know then what I know now——how my life would flip upside-down, how what I knew to be sure and true could change lickety-split, how my basic assumptions about what made sense or what was right would be turned on their heads. I didn’t yet know how to protect myself from crash-landings.

But I’ve learned. Each of us does, in our own way, in our own time. You know what helps me the most after I faint and I’m crying like I’m a channel for all the suffering of the whole world? Kindness and cookies and a hug and reminders that the people I love, love me. Lectures about fainting—not so much.

Wishing you safe passage through whatever vertigo you face today.