Friday, April 17, 2015

Rainbows and Happy Trees

Direct from Happy Bloggy Land, I present to you...


and happy trees.

Because my children are always up for a craft even if its sole purpose to provide blog fodder for their mother.

Cheery aren't they?

Raise your hand if you know what children's book the title of this post references? It's from Russel Hoban's A Birthday for Frances. I think the Frances books are part of my short list of required picture books for children. Mr. Hoban managed to capture how children think and what they feel without it being cutesy or pandering. The other thing I love about these books is that the parents are actually parents. They are neither extraneous nor are they buffoons. Frances' mother and father are caring and loving. They allow their children to have adventures yet are always there to help out. And they are sometimes baffled... just like real parents. 

The quote comes from the conversation between Frances and her little sister, Gloria. It is going to be Gloria's birthday soon and Frances isn't exactly excited about it not being her birthday. 

"Frances," said Mother, "wouldn't you and Alice [Frances' imaginary friend] like to come out of the broom closet and help us make place cards for the party?"
Frances came to the table and sat down and picked up a crayon.
"What are you putting on the place cards?" she asked.
"Pretty flowers," said Gloria. "Rainbows and happy trees."
Frances began to draw on a place card, and as she drew she sang:
Rainbows and a happy tree, Are not for Alice or for me. I will draw three-legged cats. And caterpillars with ugly hats. Frances stopped singing. "I'm telling," she said.
"Telling what? said Mother.
"Gloria kicked me under the table," said Frances.
"Mean Frances," said Gloria.
"Gloria is mean," said Frances. "She hid my sand pail and my shovel, and I never got them back."
"That was last year," said Mother.
"When Gloria is mean, it was always last year," said Frances.
If you haven't read these stories to your children, go and check them out of the library right now!

I also referenced Frances in an earlier post from last week.  When I titled the post I Guess I Forgot to Say No Backsies, I was thinking of the book, A Bargain for Frances. This one isn't as well known as the rest of the Frances books. I think it's because for a very long time now, it has only been issued in an I Can Read format. (A travesty, in my humble opinion.) In the book, Frances is planning to go and play with her friend, Thelma. As she is walking out the door, her mother warns her to be careful. When Frances asks why, her mother says it's because when she plays with Thelma, Frances always seems to get the worst of things. Frances heads off to play with Thelma and in the course of the story, ends up buying Thelma's ugly plastic tea set with the money she had been saving to buy the nice blue china one. As they transact the deal, Thelma makes sure to say to Frances, "No backsies," knowing that she has just sold her tea set for enough money to go and buy the one Frances had been saving for. (Thelma had convinced Frances to buy the tea set by telling her that she didn't think you could get that kind of tea set anymore. Not really truthful on her part.) In the end, Frances is able to get the tea set she originally wanted by using the whole 'no backsies'-thing in her favor. It's a nice little morality tale. Read into my sharing it with you anything you want. I'm not being controversial or complaining right now, remember?

And now a brief advertisement. You have a chance (assuming you live in the Chicago area) to see the Curry family acting chops in action. For this weekend and next weekend, you can go see North Park University's production of Kung Fu Suburbia: Cul de Sacrifice. This is actually a three-for-one deal. Not only was M. hired to do props, but B. is in it as well. And if that isn't enough to convince you, J. is acting opposite B. in their respective rolls. (This will be the third time they have acted together. The first was in the Thin Ice production of Oliver! and the second was in Thin Theater's production of Our Town.) It's a funny, tongue-in-cheek, musical comic book adventure for the stage. Why would you miss it? Tickets can be purchased by following the link up above and to further entice you, you can watch the trailer below.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Puppies and bunnies

I promised, didn't I?

I can't quite produce a puppy, but how about a very puppy-like 2 1/2 year old Labrador named Gretel?

Do you see a bit of a theme here? There are many children in the house who think that Gretel's sole purpose it to be a large, droopy-eared doll who can be dressed up. I'm not sure she really loves it, but is very patient about the whole thing. She is getting much much better. (That would be the euphemism for getting easier to live with.) Gretel still has her areas for growth, though. Her least desirable habit is still her utter and complete conviction that the best way to get her favorite people to play with her is to stand at bark continuously at that person. We have yet to be able to communicate with her how not endearing this is. But she is maturing and is incredibly patient with all the children, so that is no small thing.

Bunnies are going to be just a little bit more difficult to produce at this time of year. If it were June, I would have no end of opportunity to walk out into my front yard and ask an entire warren of bunnies to pose for you, but they have yet to come out in large numbers. I can give you some links to past posts about bunnies, though, so all is not lost and I can fulfill my promise of cute and non-complaining posts.

Cute Pictures
Another Unexpected Biology Lesson
Survival of the Dimmest

I do have one more little bit of cuteness to share with you. This is of the cute child variety and not the fluffy type. A friend of mine works with and advocates for children who need families and this little girl has been particularly on her heart. Once you watch this video, I'm sure you will see why. She really does desperately need a family to support her and love her and cheer her on. Little Grace has cerebral palsy and it doesn't affect her mind, only her limbs. For those who don't know, cerebral palsy is a static diagnosis. This means that it won't get worse, and with good treatment and therapy (and the support of a family) can get better. From's website: "There is evidence that children with cerebral palsy far exceed initial assessments. Children that physician's have once said would never walk have not only put one foot in front of the other, they've climbed mountains." Ask yourself, what is really important in life? What could be better than giving a hope and future to a child? Is this your daughter?

Grace also has a Reese's Rainbow account, but at the moment the amount of money donated towards her adoption is at $0. You probably know that adoption is crazy expensive. While there are reasons that it costs so much, the reasons don't make it any easier to dig up the money. Very few people have the amount of money needed lying around and must find it in other ways. Even if you are not called to adopt (and I know not everyone is), you can still do your part to give children a family by helping with the financial side. It's a sad fact that children who have grants are more likely to find homes because it does cost so much.

I'm pretty sure I haven't ventured into either critical or controversial territory. At least I don't think wanting to adopt a child is controversial, but I've been wrong before.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A teeny tiny bit of good news

I just heard that HB 3079 passed the IL House unanimously this afternoon. Next it's on to the senate, starting with committee and then going on to second and third readings and then a vote. It's good progress.

And now I'll stop here. We wouldn't want to be controversial or critical about anything. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about puppies and bunnies and the next day it will be rainbows and happy trees. I bet you all can't wait.

Monday, April 13, 2015

No news is just no news

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 62

Well, the only time the phone rang today was when solicitors called wanting me to change my electric provider or to take a survey or to donate something. Until we hear from DCFS, the blog may be a little sparse. I find it's better to just keep doing things instead of hitting refresh constantly hoping to hear some news. The whole hit-refresh-thing I did last week didn't really help anything and now my laundry is completely out of control, so I think I'll try something different this week.

Plus, the past couple of days we have had extremely nice weather and I have spent most of time outside soaking it up and watching the littles play... or sell lemonade... same thing. So for those of you looking for a post, don't worry if you don't see one, I'm just being avoidant and keeping busy. You can be sure I will let everyone know the second we have news.

In the meantime, here is another article that was published today: Homeschooling and the Gifted Child, Part 1

Saturday, April 11, 2015

For connoisseurs of extreme heat

Number of days we've lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 60

TM loves hot sauce. Really, really loves it. It is the rare spicy item that is too hot for him. We even travel with hot sauce because he often worries that where ever we are going won't have the appropriate level of heat. TM has been overjoyed to discover the entire shelf in our grocery store devoted to habanero hot sauces. He has been working his way through the vast variety of different types at about a bottle every two weeks. (He puts it on nearly everything.)

So, when I was at the store a week ago I picked him up a new one since I knew he was out. This is the one I picked.

It seems like a good choice, huh? Notice it specifically says not to play tricks on the weak and elderly.

TM seems pleased with my choice. I sit down to check email and I hear him opening it up to try some of it. The next thing I hear are rather panicked sounds and the words, "Wow! That's hot!" (Or something to that effect.) He also says that he doesn't think he can eat it. This is a rare occurrence in our house. I go back to my email and am aware that things are going on behind me. Suddenly I hear a scream from another part of the house and then see A. come dashing through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to cut the heat.

So I guess when the warning label says not to play tricks on the weak and elderly, that it is tacit permission to play tricks on your older sister. In TM's defense, there are very few of us in the house who will take him up on his offer of, "Try this... it's not hot." We know our boy. It's just not a challenge to be accepted. A., though, is never one to back down from a challenge and for some reason decided to believe her brother when he insisted it wasn't hot. I'm pretty sure she won't be falling for that trick again any time soon.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The importance of play

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 59 (Sigh... and it's the weekend.)

In order to distract myself, I've been diving into some research when I have spare moments. I have a large stack of books that are all tangentially related and have been dipping into them as time allows and as I come across them. The list includes Tools of the Mind: the Vygotskian approach to early childhood education by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong; The Play's the Thing: teachers' roles in children's play by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds; Distracted: the erosion of attention and the coming dark age by Maggie Jackson; and A Child's Work: the importance of fantasy play by Vivian Gussin Paley. They are all interesting, all rather connected, and I keep coming across the name Lev Vygotsky which is interesting.

I'm sure I will have much to say about this batch of reading when I'm all done and have thought about them some, but for right now there is one particular thing I want to share. As we've added to our family and watched our children grow and learn, it has become more and more apparent to me that play, particularly imaginative play is extremely important. This idea of play became even more important to me when H. came home, mainly because she had no idea how to do it. To discover this in your 9 year old is a tragic thing.

You see, play is no small thing. In order to play you need language, imagination, and a willingness to try new things. It is through play that children make sense of the world around them and try out new ideas and concepts. It's how they work out their fears and worries. I've listened to my children put things that scare them into their stories and imaginary games; I've heard them try out new words; I've seen them experiment with being different people... What is it like to be the bad guy? How does it feel to be completely powerful? Does having super powers really take away the things you are afraid of?

Yet H. could do nothing of this work of play. She would sit and watch her new younger sisters and brother as they acted out and narrated a whole imaginary world that she had no concept of. We had given her a doll when she first came home and I would watch as she held it, staring at it as if baffled as to its purpose. We encouraged her, helped her to see what games her siblings were playing, pretended things, and slowly, slowly she would sometimes join in. It still doesn't happen very often and she is still more comfortable with concrete activities... coloring, drawing, looking at picture books. Yet for even these activities she still needs the imaginative input of others. Take drawing for instance. Her repertoire of pictures that she draws is slowly growing, but she has yet to add a picture that is her own complete creation. The pictures that she has added have been the invention of another sibling that she particularly liked. Once she has seen that picture of someone else's she will try to do it herself, if she is successful, it is added into her drawing rotation. (I will say that this sometimes makes her brothers and sisters a wee bit upset. "She's copying me!" will every so often be heard.) It is a slow work to imagine things.

I know that H. is an extreme case, but I have always contended that older children joining their new families in another country and culture, especially if they are coming out of an impoverished environment, just need to play... or learn to play. There is plenty of time to learn academic-type things, but to be successful academically, a child needs to be comfortable in his or her own head and knows how to use imagination. The only way these skills can be learned is through play. And that would be the play that we typically think of as 3,4, and 5 year olds do... not some grown-up version of "learning" that is only vaguely disguised as play. Children can't be fooled and they know the difference.

It's an outrageous idea on some level, and when I've suggested it to parents, I tend to get smiles and nods to appease the crazy woman and I wonder if anyone has really heard me. And since it's just really my (rather educated, but without letters) humble opinion, why should anyone listen? Well, I reading the Vivian Paley book last night and nearly shouted. I did stop and insist that J. listen to it as I read it out loud. Here is what got me so excited.

Sara Smilansky, the Israeli educator who pioneered in the study of play, had wondered why the children of certain North African immigrants to Israel had difficulty learning their new language. ... Smilansky discovered that many of the children were not familiar with the sociodramatic play that occurs spontaneously among preschoolers. It seemed to her that for the newcomers to risk a new language and engage in other school experiences, they must first learn how to play. The absense of play was a major obstacle in their path to learning.
Establishing a scale of play skills, Smilansky developed a method of peer-tutoring in which those who knew how to play "taught" those who did not. The skilled players served as models for those who placed lower on the scale. In the daily repetition of dramatic play, the children demonstrated the power of play as a learning tool.
As the less-experienced players gradually entered the world of play, they increased their language fluency and followed through on other concepts introduced by the teachers. Smilansky had shown a significant correlation between play and other measure of learning deemed important in a school setting. (pp. 70-71, A Child's Work by Vivian Gussin Paley
Playing isn't wasting time. In fact, it is using a child's time in the most efficient way possible. Turn off the screens, get out the blocks and plastic animals, and get out of the way.

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