Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Tales Book Club Videos

My friend Veronica and I have been having "Happy Tales Book Club" on the first Wednesday of every month at the Kempsville Library since last spring. Other people and other children have come and gone and come again and gone again, but our four kids are getting a lot out of the regular "stand up and speak" practice of giving book reports. Also we're learning different literary terms and doing little projects and whatnot. It's fun. Well, at our December meeting, Benny gave this report on the book "Fairy Houses":

Yes, I did get his hair cut a few days later. Hehehe.

Sadie gave this report on the book "The Christmas Cat":

Here's a transcript, for those who don't speak Sadie:

Sadie: Something something something, The Christmas Cat! Came to the forest! And then came through the forest!
Phillip: She's a baby.
Sadie: I'm not a baby, but I -
Benny: She's not really a baby.
Sadie; I'm not a baby; I'm a HUMAN.
Phillip: No.
Sadie: I am!
Phillip: You're not.
Sadie: I am! I am a human!
Phillip: No. You're a GIRL.
Sadie: I'm NOT.
Benny: She's a human girl.
Sadie: Something something something...

For us, it's a hilarious record of the way our kids interact at the moment, at this stage in their development. Both Phillip (3) and Sadie (2) are very interested in not being a baby. And Phillip is also interested in defining himself in the older group (with Benny and Zoe) and so wants to distance himself from the younger group (formerly himself and Sadie).

Anyway, this video got passed around to my friends and internet neighbors, and yesterday it got Boing-Boinged. Which led, no doubt, to the 30,000 hits. There are other reasons, like the word "heckler" in the title of the video -- that word is getting a lot of attention right now, from the Kramer episode. So that could account for a lot of it.

Wow, it's interesting having your child's book report seen by 30,000 people on the internet. I must tell you, and I'm sorry to tattle on humanity in this way, but I have to report that some people responded with nasty comments and one actually called my tiny 2 year old daugher "f**king retarded." I am as cynical and jaded as the next guy (well, okay, maybe I'm *not* as cynical and jaded as the next guy!) but that appalled even me. So I took that comment down. I'm as hot for free speech as the next guy (okay, again, maybe not) but after all, Benny could read that comment, and that's just not right.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Tales Book Club Activity: Learning About Setting

Here's a game we played in our homeschool book club to learn about setting!

You'll need:

Some cards printed with different things that might happen in a story. Here are mine:

A mouse squeaks : A policeman goes to work : An astronaut finds an enormous rock : A deer and a fox are friends : A tiger drinks from a muddy river : A bat sets a trap for a spider : A skydiver gets ready to jump : A taxi cab hurries at a green light : An alligator invites his friends to play : A family of birds get ready for Christmas : A monkey eats a banana : A shark talks to a clam : A father ties his son's shoes : A snake waits until later : A cat yawns : A cow eats dinner : A kid puts his shoes on : A little girl has a tea party : A king and a queen talk about their garden : a dog finds a hidden ball in a bush : A princess loses her crown : A mother pig teachers her baby to sing.

Now you need "flags" printed with different settings. I made mine by writing the settings on half-sheets of paper and then taping each one to a straw. Here are my settings:

In a cave : In the ocean : In the city : In a tree : In a barn : On an airplane : In a castle : In the jungle : In a back yard : In a house : In the woods : On the moon

Obviously you can think of a lot more, and if you have lots more kids, you need at least one flag for every kid, or a correct number of flags if they're going to have more than one each.

The reader sits on a chair with the plot cards and everyone else forms a semi-circle around the chair, holding their flags. The reader reads the cards one at a time, and if you think you have a flag that could be a setting for that action, you hold it up. Let the kids take turns being the reader, and take turns with the different flags.

This isn't a win/lose game, but it's a good way to talk about setting, and also led us to an interesting discussion about fantasy and reality, as we could think of ways that a cow could eat dinner in a house, or in a castle, or on the moon. No right or wrong answers. The kids also wanted to make up their own settings and their own plot cards, so it was good to have a couple extra flags and cards to use.

Have fun!

Minotaur Rocket Launch on Wallops Island

We were there! On Wallops Island! Watching the rocket go up! It was cool. The kids loved it.

Yes, you can see pictures up close on the front page of the paper, but we (and our dog) actually got up at 3:30, drove up to the NASA Flight Facility on Wallops Island, and stood at the edge of the marsh when the rocket climbed into space. We and all the other nerdypants people freezing our bottoms off got to hear the roar, see the fireball, and watch it disappear. It was so cool. The exciting part took about a minute and a half, but it was worth it.

Here's our home video:

A few observations:

1. The sunrise was almost as beautiful as the launch itself. I've never seen the sun rising off the marsh like that -- it was photoriffic. Getting up super-early wasn't that big of a deal. The kids kind of loved it. We were tired later in the day, but we survived. With two small children, I don't count sleep as a necessity anymore.

2. Rocket launches are cooler than NASCAR races. You can bring your dog. And you hear the word "telemetry," which is something outside our every day experience. We stood by the NASA facility's visitor center to watch, and they were broadcasting the chatter between the technicians, and also the countdown, from loudspeakers.

3. Because the rocket spins as it rises, the exhaust trail looks curly. As it rose up through the different striations of cloud and light, it turned different colors of gold and pink. Doing a bit of research on the spinning, after we got home, we learned that the word "gimball" is actually a word that means "The rocket normally wiggles around and goes off course." Apparently, this is why they spin it. I thought Lewis Carroll made that word up.

4. The kids now need a countdown every time they click the switch to light up the Christmas tree lights.

5. Homeschooling is awesome for the adults involved too. In the interest of providing an enriched environment for our homeschooled kids, we've given ourselves a lot of cool experiences we probably wouldn't have bothered with if the kids were in school. This is one of them.

There are more launches planned for next year. I highly recommend going up to get a closer look!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Choir Concert at YMV

We went to see our friends performing in the "Young Musicians of Virginia" choir concert on Tuesday night. So what can a child learn from watching other kids perform?

YMV is a homeschooling co-op that meets at the Kempsville Baptist Church. They meet two days a week for a full day of classes, and while they began as a way for homeschooled kids to participate in music ensembles like band and choir, they also have academic classes like algebra and Spanish and whatnot. You can visit their web site here.

Benny's friend Zoe sings in the K-2 choir, and her concert was on Tuesday night. We went to see her sing, to show our support, and to enjoy the music.

I think experiences like this are great practice for kids who are learning to sit still and pay attention to performances. It's long enough to challenge the wiggles, but short enough to avoid total wiggle outbreaks. It's also well populated with children, so if any wiggleage does erupt, there aren't horrific consequences, unlike the shouting of "I HAVE A BOOGER" during the adagio movement of some significant symphony at Chrysler Hall. We do take Benny to Chrysler Hall, but I also welcome the opportunity for him to sit still in less strenuous situations.

Also he loves Zoe and so do I, and his friendship with her is very important and wonderful for him, and he genuinely loved seeing her perform and cheering for her. It was very sweet to see them together after the performance, walking around hand in hand, with Zoe introducing him to her friends, and Benny congratulating the performers on their good job.

YMV is an amazing organization. I thought for a while that Benny could maybe be in one of their orchestras, which would give him more opportunities to play the violin in a group setting, but they don't start strings until the kids are 9 years old, and Benny's already started... it just wouldn't be a good fit. I suspected that it would be not a good fit in other ways, and that suspicion was confirmed on Tuesday.

All of those children in the K-2 choir, that is, children between five and seven years old, were silent and still for the entire 60 minute performance, as they sat on the risers at the front of the stage. Not one talked. Not one poked another one. Not one fell off the back. During their songs, they stood and sang obediently, everyone singing together, and then sat back down. Nobody started humming a different song, or twirling, or glaring open-mouthed at the spotlight. They were *SCARILY* perfect. I know I will thoroughly drive home my point to the moms in the audience when I say there was *no nose-picking*. I was so completely impressed with the teachers of this group of children. I can't imagine what kind of work and wonder goes into creating that kind of uniformly excellent behavior. I do know that Benny, in that environment, would be the giant glaring red alarm light in the middle of a thousand perfectly twinkling white bulbs.

I respect and admire the people at YMV, but I think I made the right decision not to try and make it work for us. We loved the concert though! Benny especially got into the carol sing at the end. It was wonderful watching Zoe perform, too. I'm so thankful that he is able to have such a good, close friend and that they can share so much together as they grow up.