Sunday, March 27, 2011

How we do General Conference

We've tried several approaches to General Conference with our kids, some more successful than others, but last year worked really well. So if you're looking for something new, maybe this could work at your house, too.

We stream conference on the computer (we're freaks without TV service) and play radio/iPod streams throughout the house. The kids are free to play inside or out during all four sessions, but when one of the Apostles or First Presidency speaks, they have to come in and listen. The boys take notes/draw pictures using this very basic packet from the church website. We've not yet begun to worry about the girls' souls.

The advantages:

The kids learn that all four sessions of conference are equally important. We don't want them to think the Saturday or Sunday afternoon sessions are optional.

They only have to focus for 10-20 minutes at a time, then they get a break. At their ages, we feel that's a reasonable expectation. With 15 speakers at an average of 10 minutes each, they're getting plenty of exposure, yet it doesn't feel like a never-ending meeting.

Mom and Dad get to enjoy some portions of conference without kids pestering us or feeling guilty like we should be making them listen as well.

Works for us! I'd love to hear suggestions from others, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My new hobby

Back in September, flush with back-to-school motivation, I asked Carden's teachers about their lack of a parent volunteer sheet. Didn't they need my help? At third grade, are the students too old to have mommy sit in the back and staple papers while she surreptitiously counts the number of times her child fidgets in his seat?

"Well, what can you do?" they asked.

"Umm, I know a bit about writing," I replied.

Better put, I know someone who knows a lot about how to teach writing to elementary students. My poor mother didn't know she'd gained a long-distance, one-period-a-week student teacher this year: me.

Mom's district has designed an integrated writing program. Starting in kindergarten and building every year, the students learn how to write. Not "capital letter at the beginning and period at the end" writing. I'm talking "genre-specific, fabulous sentence structure, vivid detail, and strong verb" writing. Mom serves on the district writing committee to train teachers. This year they even won an award from the California Department of Education.

Long having since stolen her materials for first grade, I offered to come in to Carden's class and teach descriptive writing. I started in October and have come every week since. We've covered multipart sentences, sensory adjectives, showing instead of telling, similes, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.

Now we're working on a narrative unit, letting the kids put those descriptive techniques to use in their own stories. They've written stories about being stuck on a deserted island, how to remove a stubborn loose tooth, and what to do with a dog that follows you home. The kids really are making progress, a pleasant revelation since I'm only there once a week.

I've learned a few things, myself:

Teaching is dang hard work. It takes me 2 hours at least to prepare my 45-minute lesson. Coming up with assignments for the kids who finish first, while not rushing the slow ones, is tough! And how do you involve the ones who don't like to raise their hand or be called on?

It's so fun to see them "get it." To have a student interrupt me with "Mrs. Crockett, you just used alliteration!" makes my whole day.

Good writing is good writing. Period. The concepts I'm teaching these third graders aren't much different than the concepts I taught college students years ago as a writing tutor.

Most schools don't teach writing, and that's a loss. Carden's teacher has exclaimed many times that my lessons and progressions make perfect sense when you see it done, but you'd never come up with it yourself. Mom's district unexpectedly found that spelling and reading comprehension scores improved as the classes focused more on writing.

Writing teaches you to organize your thoughts. One of my writing teachers used to say "How can I know what I think until I see what I said?"

Where will it go from here? Who knows, but I (and hopefully the students) are having a lot of fun in the meantime.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Because I'm me...

And I'm mean.

And I truly lay awake at night thinking of more ways to make my children's lives unpleasant.

And, as my father used to say, "I didn't have kids so I could wash my own car..."

And I was tired of making idle threats. It was time for real threats!

And so

I introduced
the penalty job.

Now when the kids act up, it's just like being a hockey ref. Into the penalty box. The jobs are written on index cards and hang on the fridge. They take a card, spend 5 minutes in baseboard-cleaning penance, then move the card to the back of the stack. Instant lesson learned, and my walls get washed. Most of the jobs are ones I rarely get to (washing door frames and light switches, scrubbing cabinet fronts, cleaning the kitchen chairs). I even make them show me the used wipes as proof they actually got some dirt off.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

That's my girl

Wrong camera setting, so they're blurry and grainy, but you get the idea.

Claire's comfort objects are her shoes ("oos") and her jacket. She has to wear her shoes all the time, and likes to carry her jackets or coats around. Always ready for an adventure.

She fights with Charlotte now for possession of anything sparkly. Her other favorite word is "mine!"

Beach Week

I think Tyler has won me over to his favorite place--Pacific Grove, California. Not that it's a hard sell. We were lucky to spend a week there before Marianne's (Tyler's sister's) wedding on February 19. All the Crockett cousins came early and the kids had so much fun renewing friendships--at least the older ones. Poor Claire had about three cousins stalking her at any given time, which unfortunately coincided with a clingy phase and teething.

We've made so many wonderful beach memories over the years, centered on traditional activities and traditional foods, so I'll focus on the unique experiences from this year:

Walking through the Butterfly Sanctuary with all the cousins except two. It was the end of the monarchs' migration stay, and mating season to boot. The kids loved seeing so many butterflies "chasing each other." I let Carden and Seth take the camera and it makes me laugh to see what they take pictures of. . .


Long strips of eucalyptus bark (ok, it was pretty cool)

Favorite cousins (and a few of the 30 shots were even in focus!)

* * * * *

I made an effort this trip to find some time alone with Carden, Seth, and Charlotte. Carden and I spent an hour down on the beach by ourselves, studying tide pools, wave patterns, and talking about his life. It was so great, and I was touched that our hour beat out Uncle Aaron's s'mores bonfire and trip to the caramel apple shop as his favorite memory of the week.

Seth wanted to go pick out a treat and eat it on the beach. We walked along Cannery Row and he chose caramel apples, completely swept up in the merits of cinnamon-sugar crust or Oreo. He picked one flavor for himself and one for me and we headed to the park overlooking the ocean to eat our treasures.

Charlotte's special time was being dragged along on a couple of errands and then waiting patiently while I tried to find the San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey. I love historical sites, but they don't end up on our beach itinerary very often. The small church dates from 1794 and was the royal chapel of the Presidio. The doors were locked when Charlotte and I arrived, but the caretaker was leaving and allowed us to go inside and then let ourselves out. We had the place to ourselves, and it was really amazing, although Charlotte couldn't quite get past "it's dark and cold in here!" Chocolate and strawberry crepes redeemed the excursion in her eyes, so hopefully I may yet have someone to accompany me through the past.

* * * * *

Even though we hit the beach every trip, the ever-changing ocean creates new experiences each time. Despite a February breeze and cold water, the kids love to wade in and out of the surf. One evening we headed down for a sunset walk. The tide was low, causing the waves to break far out and then sweep up the beach for 30 yards or so, just a few shallow inches of salt water. You can see in the photo how far Charlotte is from the water's edge, yet her reflection shows that the sand was still very wet.

She danced back and forth along the edge of the water, playing tag with the surf, and ignoring my reminders that she was dressed in clothes and shoes, not a swimsuit. I missed the moment that a wave swept up faster than she expected and she got disoriented and lost her balance.

Now, emergencies show our true character, and I regret to say that when I saw Charlotte, drenched, laying on her stomach in 3-4 inches of water, yet still 30 feet away from me, my first thoughts were "Dang, I'm going to have to wade in to her and get my feet sopping wet. I wonder if those people laughing behind me would notice if I just shout encouragement to her from a safe (dry) distance while I wait 10 seconds until the wave retreats enough for me to pick her up and not get my feet wet. "

Lucky for me, Seth's true character was also revealed, and he nobly dashed into the spray to retrieve his fallen sister. His display of chivalry earned him the "You Are Special" red plate at dinner when we returned home, and Charlotte's enthusiastic accolade: "The ocean knocked me down but Seffie SAVED me!" Lucky she missed the fact that her parents were noticeably absent during her moment of need.

I groused all the way home that our beautiful sunset walk on the beach was cut short in favor of a hot bath. True character.