Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Last week Laurel and I went to Lake Temescal in Oakland, where she played with a friend -- and climbed some trees.

I was talking to a friend as the girls played in a nearby tree, but when I glanced up I saw Laurel had climbed far higher than I would have liked. This picture doesn't really capture the height, because I was occupied with trying to convince her to climb down a few branches without betraying my alarm.

She had a great time, though.

I didn't accurately capture the bottom of the tree in this photo

A picture of sheer contentment

Climbing trees

The tree in question

I have mentioned many times in this blog that Laurel loves to climb (here's a post from when she was just 14 months old!) and nearly as many times I have mentioned that I am concerned about her climbing (here's a post from when she was 22 months old, and here's another from when she was three years old, right after her concussion).

But you know one thing all these years of climbing have accomplished? Now that she's five years old, she's a really good climber.  

This was brought home to me this afternoon when Isaac had a friend over to play. His friend is a very tall eight-year-old boy, so I wasn't worried when my children climbed up into an apple tree and suggested he follow. But to my surprise, despite his being two feet taller than Laurel, the boy could not get up into the tree.

I watched him struggle for a while, dangling from his fully-extended arms while he attempted to walk his slipping feet up the trunk, and I finally pointed out a slightly-protruding burl. "Laurel puts her foot on top of this when she's climbing," I explained, "and then she leans backwards while she throws her other leg up and over the branch."

This advice helped him figure it out, and he managed to get up onto the branch, but once he was up there he was clearly very uncomfortable. At first I thought it was because there were three children perched in a fairly small apple tree, but even after Isaac dropped back to the ground to make more room, his friend was nervous.

The friend climbed down almost right away, and his descent was as difficult as his ascent. Even though he was only five feet off the ground and could almost reach it with his feet, he was scared to let go and drop, so he clung too closely to the branches and managed to scrape his inner arms. Laurel, on the other hand, took a branch beneath each hand, pushed herself gently away from the trunk, let go, and landed neatly on her feet.

But then she has been practicing. I don't just mean practicing climbing in general, but practicing on this tree in particular. She only discovered this week that she was tall enough to reach the lower branches, and she immediately set about conquering the tree. On that first day, for 15 minutes straight she did nothing but climb up, sit briefly on a branch, and climb back down again. She must have done it 30 times that day, until she was breathing fast and her arms and legs were scraped raw from the bark.

I'm proud of her.

- - - - -

When I look at the photos I've taken over the past month, I have pictures of Laurel in a tree taken on seven separate occasions!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Spring break

We spent last week in South Carolina visiting Craig's parents, as did his two brothers and their families. All together there were five children, which made things fun for them (although Isaac is the only boy, so he was excluded sometimes).

Here are just a few of the things we did together...

Isaac and Laurel sit by the river in Greenville (he has just discovered a message in a bottle!)

Isaac plays catch at the park with Grandpa (and his dad and his uncle Dylan)

Laurel enjoys being pushed on the swing by her aunt Jessica (Dylan's wife)

Laurel reads with Grandma in the sunshine on her patio

Isaac and his cousin Taylor look at a bowl of minnows they caught in Grandpa and Grandma's creek

Laurel and Isaac splash with their dad at the hotel pool

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Report card

Isaac recently received his second-trimester report card. Things are looking good, in general.

His "independent reading level" is M, up from L on his last report card. I have no idea whether a one-letter increase over the course of a trimester is a good or bad thing, but I guess second-graders are supposed to be at level M at the end of the year, so he's already hit that mark.

He scored 90% on the district math assessment, up from 87% on his last report card. I think he could have done even better, because when the teacher showed us the test, we found several understandable errors: in one case, he added instead of subtracted (which he does extremely often!); in another, instead of writing "triangle" as the answer, he drew an arrow to a triangle which was pictured on the same page. Another page had two or three errors, which surprised us, but the teacher literally didn't let us look at the page, saying, "I don't like that page; it's stinky. Everyone got those questions wrong."

He still has some problems attributable to dyslexia/dysgraphia, but he is working hard. His lowest grades are in writing, both the mechanics (spelling, naturally, but also conventions such as punctuation and capitalization) and the content (they have been writing compositions that "describe and explain familiar experiences"). Partly his "impoverished written product" (I got that phrase from a book about learning disabilities) is due to his dislike of writing words on paper, but did you know that many dyslexics have a hard time even outlining work to be written?

We don't know for sure that Isaac is dyslexic. He is learning to read, after all, and he is right at grade level, but he consistently makes very specific types of error in his reading and writing that suggest that there is an information-processing glitch of some sort. His teacher and the school administration agree with us, so the school psychologist is finally giving him a series of screening tests. These assessments will let us know his performance on a variety of measures used to indicate whether there is a "specific learning disability," although the school cannot and will not diagnose what that disability might be.

Getting back to the report card, his highest grades are in "The student listens critically and responds appropriately to oral communications" and "The student speaks in an organized and coherent manner."

And he's done very well in"Social/Work Habits," which is a strange thing to have on a report card, because I think it is more a measure of his innate character than of anything the education system provided for him.

3 = consistently meets standards
E = Areas of strength
S = Satisfactory progress
N = Needs improvement


Isaac had his first Incrediball practice yesterday, and from the sidelines it looked like it went pretty well. Afterward I asked him if he liked it, and he gave me a thumbs up, although he did remark that he had some trouble doing things right. He didn't seem too discouraged, just making an empirical observation.

Isaac is one of three second-graders on the team, and he didn't seem much worse than the two other big kids, especially for one who has no previous experience playing ball! Meanwhile, the three youngest kids on the team are five years old (at least one is still in preschool!), and Isaac is eight, so I'm guessing he won't be the weakest player -- although one of the kindergarteners has "never held a bat," according to his grandmother, and he was such a good hitter that all the dads were making remarks about "signing him."

Isaac needs to practice his catching and throwing, but so do all the kids; they spent a long time yesterday working on "step and throw." Also, Isaac's glove is too small, which makes it harder for him to catch. (It's sort of an accident that he has a glove at all -- about four months ago he found a child-size glove and a few baseballs and softballs at Thrift Town.) His hitting is good and strong when he connects, but he doesn't remember to keep a fixed batting stance, and he has a habit of stepping out of the batters' box and trying to hit the ball any which way; perhaps this is a legacy of two years of tennis! He says his favorite part yesterday was fielding ground balls.

The main coach seems to strike a good balance between supportiveness and correction, but his wife will be assisting him, and I heard her say some stereotypical coachy things ("Now that was a good throw, finally!") that made me worry about her attitude. However, two of their sons are playing, so maybe it's just with her own kids that she's impatient and demanding?

Well, we will find out. Isaac will have practice every Friday from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., and starting on April 19, games on Saturdays.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Learning French

Do you recall that we're spending three weeks of the summer in France (and one week in Hungary)? I just completed an 11-week course of French I at my local community center. When I started the class I knew no French, and now I know practically no French, which is an improvement. In a few weeks I'm moving on to French II, although I don't feel very confident in my French I, so maybe that's a mistake.

Back in January we checked out a children's French instructional DVD from the library, and over the course of a month my kids watched it quite a lot. We haven't had it since then, but Isaac remembers a surprising amount. On Friday we were driving somewhere and he was complaining he was thirsty, so I told him I had that very day practiced saying 'I'm thirsty' in French.

When he asked me how to say it, I had to admit that I didn't remember: "But I do know that 'I would like a drink' is 'Je voudrais un ... une ... uh ...' Well, I don't remember how to say 'drink,' either."

Isaac said, "Je voudrais une boisson."

I said, "That's great! And what about 'I'm hungry'?"

Isaac said, "J'ai faim."

He was right! I guess it's true what they say about children being better at picking up language than adults.

On the other hand, Laurel hasn't shown much interest in learning French. When the rest of us start trying to converse in French, in retaliation she begins speaking "Gongy," which is a made-up language from the made-up country of "Gongyland." It is guttural and usually very loud, and it sounds like an angry cross between German and Arabic.

But tonight she did say, "Je suis NON."

(If you don't speak French, that means "I am NO.")

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Athletics update

In February the kids finished their last session of swimming lessons for a while. Isaac is still a Flying Fish, and he only gained half a skill (putting him at seven of ten). Laurel is still a Minnow, and in fact she lost two skills (putting her at six of ten); she wouldn't do the "dog paddle 20 feet with pop-up breaths"! Wait, what? I actually complained a bit when I filled out the evaluation form for the session, since that puts her back to the level she was at three and a half sessions ago. The owner called me and basically said kids, especially little kids, learn erratically, in leaps and bounds, and sometimes backwards bounds. A likely story! Except that I watched every lesson, and I could see that if Laurel wasn't performing consistently, it was because she was having so much fun in the water that she wasn't able to keep concentrating. Isaac took his lessons seriously, Laurel was just there to have a good time. I feel sort of sorry for her teachers.

Speaking of feeling sorry for Laurel's teachers, on Wednesday the director of her preschool called me to pick her up early; Laurel had gotten motion sick on the tire swing and thrown up. She had been spinning around on the swing, turned green ("She was actually green!" the teachers all said with interest), and announced that she needed to lie down for a while. She lay on the floor of the office, but after about 20 minutes she sat up and announced that she was going to vomit. The director complimented me on Laurel's "body awareness," because she was glad they had time to hand her a bucket. Hooray.

Next week Isaac starts playing Incrediball, which is a game for kids in grades K-2 meant as a transition from tee-ball (where the ball sits on top of a tee) to real softball. I guess the main difference with Incrediball is that your own coach pitches to you, instead of a kid from the opposing team, but it's also supposed to be more easy-going than our local city league. Isaac never played tee-ball, nor is he a fan of team sports in general, but he was initially interested in signing up for Incrediball because he enjoys hitting the whiffle ball really hard (must be the two years of tennis lessons). He changed his mind when he realized it required not just an hour of practice during the week, but a game every Saturday morning ("I hate to lose my weekend," he said). However, I signed him up anyway. His catching and throwing are appalling, so he will have a hard time at first, but this is his last eligible year for Incrediball and he might as well practice those skills in a relatively mellow environment.

He'll take a break from his weekly tennis class while he plays Incrediball. He can get back to tennis in the fall.

Since the start of the new year, Laurel has been taking her weekly gymnastics classes at a new gym; she had taken classes at a different gym throughout 2013. The old gym was only seven minutes from our house, and the new gym is 30 minutes away, so it's not nearly as convenient, but the old gym had hired a teacher who was just not working out for me. The teachers at the new gym are great, and Laurel is learning a lot and having a wonderful time. Laurel's class put on a "show" for the parents recently, and I was pleased to notice that she has improved in her strength and coordination; she is not the complete klutz that she was six months ago. She might not even be the weakest student in the class!

As for me, I'm still not completely over my "cold" (it seems an insufficient description for what happened to me!), but I'm a bit better every day, so I finally got back to the gym this week. I had been taking two different Pilates classes each week, plus getting up early most mornings to exercise at home, but it all went by the wayside when the kids started getting sick in mid-February. (Can't go do the gym when they are home sick from school...)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Playing in the back yard

The kids are obsessed with "Tintin" comic books these days, so we spent part of the afternoon playing Tintin in the back yard. (Laurel was Tintin, but Isaac wanted to be a coast guard officer rather than someone from the actual comic book.)

In exchange for my being the bad guy (I was a drug-smuggler and gun-runner), the kids agreed to pose for a photo, but I couldn't get them to be serious about it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Parent-teacher conference

This week I had a parent-teacher conference with Laurel's preschool teacher, Shannon. It was pleasantly uneventful. Laurel can do everything you'd want a five-year-old to do. She was declared kindergarten-ready, although her teacher joked she wants to keep Laurel around for another year.

Looking at the checklist part of the assessment:

Cognitive development: Laurel knows all her colors and shapes; can identify the numbers zero through nine (although she often confuses six and nine); can put the numbers zero through ten in order; can count to 20 (really she can count higher than that); can understand more, less, and same; can classify items by similarities and differences (size, color, shape); can copy a repeating pattern as well as create a unique pattern; can create rhymes (hat/bat, red/bed); and can identify all her capital letters except J, K, and P.

Creative development: her teacher raved about this category; art, dramatic play, music, dance, Laurel does it all with great enthusiasm.

Physical development:
  • Her fine motor skills are very good: she can copy shapes fairly accurately for her age (circle, square, triangle, and so forth); she can write her first name; her pencil and scissor grips are "efficient"; she can cut along a line. 
  • Her gross motor skills are pretty good too: she can jump with two feet together, hop on one foot, walk on a balance beam, kick a ball, throw a ball, and catch a ball. (She can't yet skip or dribble a ball.)

Social and emotional development:
  • Under the "personal management" heading, she did well in every category: she completes tasks, accepts consolation when distressed, manages personal belongings, listens with comprehension, dictates stories in sentences, expresses ideas in complete sentences, follows simple directions, helps clean up when asked. 
  • Under the "working with peers" heading, she did pretty well: she shows empathy for others, sustains play with others, follows rules and adapts to classroom demands and routines, makes choices among alternatives, participates in discussions, and shows a positive attitude toward learning. Due to her past problems with being dominated by a stronger-willed friend, Laurel's skills were indicated as "developing" in the categories of "expresses needs and feelings to others" and "solves problems through verbal negotiation," but her teacher assured me that Laurel was making great progress. (Laurel has a lot of friends to choose from now, and seems less likely to let any one of them push her around.)

And here's the narrative part of the assessment (basically Laurel likes everything about school, which was the same finding last year at her three-year-old assessment):

Laurel is a confident independent learner at school. She has really blossomed this year and is taking full advantage of all areas of curriculum in the preschool.

Laurel loves art! She often spends long periods of time being creative in the art area (art activities, easel and free art table). She is quite an artist!

She also enjoys reading stories, science, play dough, cooking, animals, figures, building with blocks/manipulatives, and tactile experiences.

Laurel is very imaginative and often engages in elaborate role play with her friends in the loft and blocks area. She especially enjoys playing with small figures (animals, castle, dollhouse) and creates wonderful worlds and homes for them.

Laurel loves to play outside! Preferred outside activities are sand/water play, cooking, climbing, swinging, dramatic play, riding trikes, and jumping on the trampoline. She has gained a new level of confidence in her gross motor abilities and is taking more physical risks.

Laurel's greatest area of growth has been in her social and emotional development. She has branched out and is enjoying many different friendships. She has also gained more self-confidence in her ability to communicate her ideas, thoughts and feelings with her peers. She has taken charge and chooses her own interest. I look forward to seeing Laurel continue to develop this skill.