Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Spring Snow

When I was quite young, I had a vivid, colorful dream. (Yes, many of us do dream in color.)  I stepped into the backyard, which was exactly as our yard was at the time, and it was covered in snow. Growing up in Central Illinois, that doesn't seem like a rare thing to dream. However, this snow was warm. And it was colorful, all different colors. It was deep, as well, enough to create nice warm caves or snowmen. But warm. I was absolutely in heaven. I always loved playing in the snow, except that I hated to be cold. I still hate to be cold, and I'm cold very easily. It felt like a magnificent gift.

That dream, more than any other, stayed with me through the years. It meant something. I couldn't tell what it might mean, but it meant something, down deep within my soul.

Fast forward through years of finishing school, marriage, moving, kids, more moving... and then eleven years ago, we chose a place to "retire" (retiring to us meant to stop moving every few years and creating an actual home base). We randomly chose western Pennsylvania. I say randomly because we had no family or friends here. We'd driven through a few times in our travels, but there was not real connection that could be quantified. I was set, though, on this area. It called out to me.

Yes, some of my ancestors did come from PA. A great aunt lived in another part of the state and I remember that visit with all of the gorgeous trees and the green everywhere you looked. There are those memories. But something deeper called me here.

I'll say now that spring is my favorite season. Despite the fact I'm allergic to everything that comes to life in spring, I still love seeing it come to life. I love the spring color: forsythias, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, red buds, dogwoods... every color under the sun everywhere you look. All mixed together. And, of course, the magnolias.

We moved here in the fall as my youngest was starting high school, after my oldest had just graduated. So, many of the plantings in the large yard of the house we bought were dormant. That next spring, to my delight, the small tree I could see from my office window turned out to be a magnolia, just like the one outside my grandma's front window that I always loved, for its artistry and its magnificent big blooms that appeared before the leaves filled in and joined the painting.

It felt like a message from Grandma, an I'm still with you sign. By the time we moved here, we'd already lost her to dementia. That was a hard blow. I was Grandma's Girl, always had been. I didn't see her often in those last years since I was always out and away, but she wrote letters, with little drawings for my daughter -- she was always drawing cute little animals and such, and did some painting, as well -- and I sent photos of my babies and where we were, telling her about our temporary homes. (Never underestimate the power of a hand-written and mailed letter!)

Almost exactly a month after we settled here, Grandma moved on up over the rainbow (one of her favorite songs). The kids and I drove back to IL to say our goodbyes. To me, there was a certain peacefulness about it, because I felt she was finally free from the body that had shut her down and pulled her spirit down. She was too vibrant to be held back.

She was born in May, 101 years ago.

Every year when the magnolia blooms, I say hello to her again. I feel like she led me here, to this place, this house, with its magnolia and lilacs.

And then there's the spring snow. Never, anywhere else I've lived, have I seen dandelion snow. Every May, our yard is absolutely filled with dandelion/thistle seeds that looks exactly like big, warm snowflakes. It even gathers along the edge of the driveway like small snowdrifts. My daughter, who has just moved back here after her own wandering years, says they're not getting much of it in town. So, a few miles down the road, and I would miss it.

There's a reason I'm here. Not only here as a general being alive thing, but here in the place we "randomly" chose. I don't need to know why. I feel it.

Now to get my brand new magnolia planted, a yellow one for my favorite color, close enough to the other that I can welcome their blooms together every spring.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Can Your Child Fail Kindergarten Screening?

Sadly, the answer to that is a resounding, "Yes!" At least according to the national board of whoever determines ridiculous school policies, they can. How do I know? My very smart barely 5-year-old granddaughter failed her screening two months ago. They are quite concerned about her lack of progress and want her to go to summer school.


She hasn't STARTED school yet, and already she needs summer school.

Does she really?

First of all, they're comparing her progress to that of a lot of kids who are nearly six and will be six within a month or so of starting school. She had been 5 for all of a few days when they tested her. That's a huge amount of difference at that age.

Second, the results are wrong. She can do more than she showed them. I know. I work with her, when she wants to. I don't push. I don't want learning to be a hated chore. I want it to be exciting so she WANTS to learn. I want her to realize how much she can do with what she learns. I've been reading to her since before she could sit up by herself. She loves books. She's starting to ask what things say. She's now starting to ask how to spell words. Of her own free will. Because she wants it.

That is something no tests measure. They don't check interest level. They don't take the whole child into consideration. It's only about statistics and the school's grade.

This is the actual form they gave us to show her progress, or lack of:

Now, honestly, should we be expecting this of little ones who haven't even started school? Some of it, maybe. Actually, I was surprised she did some of these as well as she did, since we haven't "worked" on it. She has been learning the value of learning since she was tiny, however. We keep electronics very limited, books in plentiful supply, and a plethora of toys on hand she uses very adeptly at very imaginative play (where is the check for that?). We also have been doing art together since she was two years old to fuel her creativity -- not only crafts, but actual art.

Where are the boxes for creativity?

Where did they mark the way she mixes colors to find out what they make, or that she asks what two colors make when mixed?

Where did they mark the fact she is already learning some piano and guitar? (Learning music is a huge step toward good literacy and overall school success.)

Where did they mark the way she was looking out for the baby in the room, protecting her from bigger kids, such as herself, to be sure she didn't pick up what might hurt her or get knocked into and hurt? It wasn't even a baby she knew, only a sibling of another child getting screened.

Where did they mark how polite and friendly she was the whole time, including how excited she was to meet a teacher?

Where is the 'grade' for doing the tasks she was asked to do rather than refusing?

What about the way every other child there was treated as a friend?

How about the way she makes up stories on her own and colors pictures to go with them?

And then there's the way she stepped up to comfort/help another child who was feeling rather shy about the whole thing. Where is her credit for that?

How about her memory? She has a ridiculously good memory. They don't know that, either. She picks stuff up just by seeing and hearing it and we're constantly surprised by what she knows.

Yes, I realize this was a cursory screening, but since they're using it to predict overall school success, it's severely lacking, and therefore, it honestly means nothing at all.

No, this little girl doesn't need summer school. No, she is not behind. No, she won't need "massive intervention" based on getting 22/100 on what they tested. Her "skill to print" her letters will be absolutely fine, since she's an artist and spends plenty of time drawing things much more complicated than letters. She will be the one at the forefront helping any other child she sees needing help, mainly with social issues. She's the one I could have used when I was young, that one who will take them by the hand and say "it's okay" when school is hard, no matter how much they know already or how smart they are because it's a big social scene.

It's how well a child deals with social/interpersonal issues that is the real factor in how well they succeed in school. Why is there no screening for that?

Granted, I do have concerns with her going to school. She is an extremely high energy child who MUST move around a lot, and her lack of focus on anything she doesn't want to do will be an issue. I'm quite sure the "see a doctor" conversation [suggesting meds to make it easier on the teachers] will come up (and get promptly dismissed). I know there will be issues. I'm ready for it. However, all the summer schools in the world will not take that out of her. She is who she is, and she's an incredible, sweet, loving child with a wonderful heart and tons of potential and I'm prepared to fight anything that threatens to take that away.

A caveat: I do not, in any way, blame any teacher for what they are required to do for the curriculum in order to try to stay "on standards." I understand they are governed by the school board and the board is governed by state and state somewhat by feds. This is not anti-school or anti-teacher. This is simply saying that we maybe need to evaluate the evaluations and protest what is expected of our children by those making the laws. We don't have to just give in. We have the power of voice and vote. Our children need education. Absolutely. But they also need to be children. They need to play. They need free time. They need understanding and flexibility.

And selfishly, I'm just not willing to give up half the summer and all of that precious time with my precious grandbabies sooner than absolutely necessary. That together time matters. We're doing the library preschool hour once a week, together. We're playing T-ball. We're running errands together. We're doing art together. And now and then, we work on letters and numbers together. And, the cousins are absolutely loving all of their together play time. It's precious time that will too soon be taken away by "the curriculum." Why start earlier than necessary? They'll learn well and willingly if they're taught to love to learn. They won't if they are only doing it on demand.

By all means, parents/grandparents should be encouraged to read to and with their children, to talk with and not at their children, to include them in daily events and talk about what's going on and what they're doing. Do activities together. Let them play and create and be sure they have writing tools available. Grab quick teaching moments whenever possible. Absolutely. Give them your time and attention. That's what will give them the best start without overwhelming them.

Yes, summer programs are wonderful for some children. But know your child and react to his/her best interest, not to those who do not know your child. 💓

Caveat #2: There are bigger successes than school curriculum success. I prefer to focus on the bigger picture and the whole child.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Lessons from Ladybug: Friendship

Image result for winnie the pooh friendship quotes

Since I haven't talked about our Ladybug here recently (or anything else, either!), a brief re-introduction. Our 5-year-old granddaughter has lived with us since she was born. I don't use the kids' names publicly, so I use the nicknames I give them. Ladybug is three months younger than her cousin and best buddy, Punkindoodle 🎃, who has a 2-year-old sister, Honeybee 🐝. They just moved back here from out west so the cousins are spending some nice quality time together. 😁 She also recently became big sister to (soon-to-be) step-brother AttiRex 👦, and our newest little Butterfly. 🦋

We just finished her second year of dance. More on how that went in another post.

Throughout the first half of the class year, one of the girls who is taller and built sturdier was constantly in Ladybug's face, telling her where she was supposed to be and otherwise bossing her around, now and then with a shove added. I suggested she stay away from that little one. When she wouldn't do that, I suggested she should tell the girl to stop shoving and keep her hands to herself, hoping the teacher would hear it and step in. (And while she was at it, to keep her own hands to herself since she loves to hug her classmates and they don't always care for that.)

That didn't work, either. So, since the teacher always flies in and out before and after class with no chance to talk to her personally, I sent her a message saying the constant shoving has to stop. She hadn't noticed, so she said. In a class of about 12 when it was happening most every week? (We are now switching studios, as an aside.)

Anyway, after the next class ended, Ladybug pulled the other little one, the one who had been bullying her for weeks, out of class by the hand and, with the biggest smile, said "She likes me now! She's my friend!" Since then, they get along great.

And then there is this... from dress rehearsal. Yes, this is our friendly little Ladybug pulling her new friend from the back row out to the front of the stage to dance with her.

We could all learn something from this, myself included. Instead of doing as I suggested and staying away or fussing at her, she took the opportunity, when the other little one was told to stop shoving, to shrug off earlier bullying and extend the hand of friendship. Maybe she knew that little one could use someone to take her hand and say, "Be my friend." Maybe she saw a side that was yelling out for acceptance. Like her father, she's always the first to jump in when she sees someone who might possibly need help, and offer it.

She didn't do much of her dance during rehearsal or the two following shows over the weekend, but it doesn't matter. This is what matters. This moment. You can't top this, even with a perfect dance routine.