Summer Vacation: Don't Overthink It and Don't Overdo It

Yesterday I took the kids to North Park for some bike riding and pool swimming. Laurel recently learned to ride a bike, but our neighborhood is really too busy for a five year old to ride safely in. And the next neighborhood over appears to be safer, but two years ago I saw an 8 year old kid on a bike get crushed by an SUV (he survived, but had pretty serious injuries), so I'm a little wary about that street, too. I figured we could get some street riding practice in - as well as braking practice - on the loop around the Pie Traynor field. Lots of senior citizens were out walking, and were luckily amused by Laurel's exuberant use of her bell as she practiced passing "On your left!" Marko rode along in the trailer and cheered us on whenever there was the slightest incline. He also greeted every dog.

After the bike ride, they played at one of the many shaded playgrounds and then we went to the pool. I wondered immediately why I wasn't totally grossed out by swimming pools as a kid. But Laurel and Marko loved it, and since the baby pool was only 2 feet deep and really big, I could relax somewhat instead of constantly preventing my non-swimming children from sinking to the bottom and drowning. I feel kind of bad about Laurel not knowing how to swim yet and it's one of the items on our summer list.

This video is old, but I like it. I'm going to try this approach, and if it doesn't work, then I'll seek some professional help. But I've heard from way too many parents that they've taken their kids to lessons and their kids still don't swim very well, so I don't want to waste my money.

One of the things I wanted to make sure that the kids had this summer (and always) is plenty of unstructured time to play, especially outdoors. This is really important during the preschool years, and I actually think this is a bigger influence on the development of vocabulary and comprehension skills later on than anything academic you do. What you read is never really about just what's on the page. Any experience you can draw on to make a comparison or connection helps to make sense of the words.

So, I remind myself that learning to ride a bike, splashing in a pool, climbing the slides at the playground and digging in the dirt in the front yard are doing great things for them.

The other important lesson we learned from yesterday's outing is that Marko really needs to take a nap from about 12 to 2. Also, it's just dumb for fair-skinned people to be out in the sun from 12 to 2. So, for the rest of the summer, I'll be more careful about getting home in time for lunch and nap, and planning our outdoor activities for either the morning or late afternoon.


Summer Vacation: Building Themes

One of the problems with school is the lack of depth of study on any one topic. I used to work at a school that had only two classes a day...language arts/social studies and math/science. The whole grade focused on one "expedition" per semester, centered around a guiding question. But this was the only place where we really stuck to a topic for more than a week or so.

My principal preferred engaging students to pleasing bureaucrats but nonetheless there were standards to address and it was always kind of mind-bending work to label our lesson plans with the daily strand and objective in the state standards. I'm sure some well-intentioned person had a great reason for thinking that large groups of chronologically grouped children ought to be mastering the same thing on day 84 of the school year. But I digress. 

Summer vacation is a perfect opportunity to dive deeper into something-even if you don't know exactly where you are headed at the outset. This week we built some boats out of corks. The next day we went to the library and I checked out several books on boats. One of them had some projects in it, so we used that to build a new kind of boat out of a yogurt container, some clay, a straw and a piece of heavy paper for a sail. Back to the pond we went and the kids wee amazed at how fast this version went zooming around the pond. Laurel thought maybe the sail was better at catching the wind. I thought it being heavier might have been helpful. 

Lest you think our summer break is full of idyllic learning moments, the children were slightly less enthusiastic about the hike to the pond the second time.

I didn't bring snacks and they were not amused at my joke that being unable to walk two miles without some crackers is a first world problem.

Anyway, today we went to visit the science center, which has a great exhibit on water including this sand pit.
You move the sand to create different terrains and topographic lines are projected onto it. Then you hold your hand above it and it makes "rain" - your hand blocking the sensor puts a projection of water on the sand and it runs down into the valleys.

They also had a model of a lock and dam. It provided a very easy to use way to move boats (or rubber ducks!) from one level to another on a water table.

So, we're building a very nice theme around water here and I plan to keep going deeper. I'd like to visit the creek in our park that flows to the river and see what's in there. I will look for some fiction and/or nonfiction books about traveling by sailboat. We'll keep making little boats. I'll check out Netflix to see what kid-friendly documentaries there are. We'll go kayaking on the river. Maybe befriend someone with a yacht. (Laurel's suggestion). We could draw a map of our watershed. I've heard you can take a tour of the sewage plant. We could volunteer with our local watershed conservation group.

I'll be on the lookout for all of the above, but it's a broad topic so I'll also be paying close attention to the kinds of observations and questions the kids bring up.


Summer Vacation: Cork Boats

Today we made little boats out of old wine corks, toothpicks and paper towels. We took them down to a little pond in the park to see how they would float. Laurel said she knew they would at least float because she knew that corks float. (We drink enough wine in this house that corks are a frequent bath toy.)  It was really interesting to see how the different designs were able to catch the current, or how some just got knocked over in the wind. We spent about an hour at the pond, dropping the boats in from various points and rescuing them before they floated out the other side. It was really windy and that gave us a lot to observe about the little sails we put on the boats. Laurel started modifying her boats with little rudders. As soon as we got home, she started fiddling again, and gathering new materials...trying plastic straws instead of toothpicks for instance. I encouraged her to make some sketches of the the ones that worked but she didn't want to. I think messing around with the materials was the most fun for her. Marko only wanted to decorate the boats with pom-poms but he liked watching them float around. I think this was a fun activity because I did it with them but I didn't try to tell them how to make their boats even when I thought their design was bad. Using the corks ensured they would at least float and we could think about other factors that affect water navigation. I was also very happy that Marko walked the whole way there and back with no complaints.


Things I Said

Today I took Marko to the science center and he spent a good 20 minutes watching this lizard and talking about his eyes, his skin, his claws, his jumpy movements. This is one of my great joys of being a full-time caregiver now...all these little moments where I don't have to rush them on to anything else. I can join them in looking and listening. "Extirpated" was a word I kept saying to myself today because next to the lizard Marko was so enthralled by was a tiger salamander, which used to live in Pennsylvania but no longer does. Extirpation means the local extinction of species. 

Last weekend we went out to the Laurel Highlands. M went on a long trail run. I took the kids on a hike, armed with some Audubon guides and a couple of Clif bars. All they could think about was the Clif bars and we spent the first half an hour looking for a rock or log to sit on and eat the Clif bars. We probably traveled about a quarter of a mile in this amount of time. I was trying to hold them off...keep the Clif bars as bait to get them to return to the car or something. But eventually I caved and they were happy. With the Clif bars eaten they were free from distraction and could focus on finding flowers and caterpillars and poison ivy.

We ran into a trail runner out there and he said wow, you've got little ones here and gave them both high fives. They wanted to be trail runners then and we covered more ground for a little while. 

One of the reasons extirpation is so interesting to me is that we have these Audubon guides and try to identify various species with it. Sometimes we're certain we've found something but it shouldn't be where we found it. But of course our planet is heating up and ecosystems are in constant flux anyway and have been for billions of years, with or without human influence. Balance is not static, it is ebb and flow. When we wander through the Laurel Highlands we come across boulders left behind by glaciers. Rocks that used to be at the bottom of an ocean. What we observe right now is also all sorts of evidence of what is long gone.

Of course, along with this philosophical musing on nature, I also said things like, "please don't smash your crackers with that hammer" and "who drew on the windows with crayons?"

Children are wise and curious but also defiant and destructive.