Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

IMG_2871

My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in family life, musings

social learning through play

When I first read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn a couple years ago, I was struck by his descriptions of young children playing together. In the interactions he transcribed, these children were negotiating social hierarchies, defining relationships, experimenting with emotional expression and response, making small talk, and learning to understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals – all through the context of undirected, independent, imaginative play with each other.

At the time I was both impressed and discouraged: impressed at the ability of the human mind to use pretend play as a means of acquiring important social skills, and discouraged at the thought that I hadn’t yet seen my son engage in pretend play with another child in that way. He could parallel play with his baby brother, and that was about it; other children overwhelmed and even frightened him.

But lately I have watched him playing with Limerick, roaring and yelling and screaming at each other, and when I cautiously peek around the corner they quickly assure me that it’s all part of the game, and their characters are angry, not actually them. Their pretend animals ask each other if they can come in, or share space, or help with something difficult. The boys ask each other, outside of the game, about what they are each comfortable with and what the other one’s preference would be for the kind of game they play, back and forth until they reach a compromise.

I have watched him playing with Aubade, laughing and wrestling and generally being silly, until suddenly she pretends to be sad with a pouty frown and a slump of her shoulders, proclaiming that she is sad, and he instantly changes his mood to match her emotional expression, curling up next to her to give her snuggles until she decides she is happy again.

While his understanding of other people’s emotions may not be as intuitive, and while social norms and niceties may always be more of a second language, he still has the innate desire to connect and belong with others. And so with the people he loves, he works hard to understand them, to compromise with them, to adapt to their wants and feelings. We’ve done a lot of “play coaching” with him and his siblings over the years, to get to this point, but now, every time I see him bend and adjust, every time I hear him ask what his siblings would rather do instead of demanding things go his way, I am so encouraged by how much he has learned, and by how much he can do without any adult around reminding him. Those hours of play have really been effective in helping him pick up and hone his budding social skills – and I have no doubt they will continue to be.

“When we set children against one another in contests – from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read – we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success. (Quite predictably, researchers have found that the results of competition often include aggression, cheating, envy of winners, contempt for losers, and a suspicious posture toward just about everyone.) Finally, we lead children to regard whatever they’re doing as a means to an end: The point isn’t to paint or read or design a science experiment, but to win. The act of painting, reading, or designing is thereby devalued in the child’s mind.

Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Chapter 4

competition

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 8

We have been learning about writing letters and sending them in the mail!

Rondel has been coloring pictures by the handful (although not finishing them all), and he wanted to send some of them to the people he loves that live far away. So he has been learning about how to write letters by dictating to me the things he wants to say, and we’ve been tucking a letter and a picture into an envelope and mailing it off. It turns out that writing is a lot different than talking; I’ve been writing for so long that I had kind of forgotten, but when you are communicating with someone who can’t see you or what you’re talking about, and who can’t ask clarifying questions in real time, you have to use words in a different way than when those perks of conversation are available. So Rondel has been figuring out how to word things for a letter vs. a conversation, which is pretty neat.

He’s also been learning about addresses and the mail system – how does the mail man know who Grandpa Bob is? How do they find his house to bring the letter there? What do all those numbers and letters mean on the outside of the envelope? And so on. Rondel’s first question was actually about why we needed an address on the envelope, so I had to explain to him that the mail man here in Arizona who will pick up the letter doesn’t know his Grandpa Bob and wouldn’t know what state to send it to 🙂 I think he is starting to understand it, and it is a good step towards learning his own address and understanding why that is important information to know.

So far he has only sent pictures to his aunt, his great-grandma, and his great-grandpa – but I think if he could think of more recipients he would send pictures to others as well, especially if there were a chance of getting a letter in reply. Mail is so exciting – you never know when something special may surprise you!

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – solo parenting, friends, and broken AC in the summer

It’s been a different sort of week over here! For the Seven Quick Takes link-up with Kelly, here are some of the highlights:

  1. Limerick has been so tired, every day. We went to the zoo on Monday at his request, and he was so tired that he asked to go home every 30 minutes. He napped on Sunday and Monday (which he never does), and has been so tired in the evenings that he struggles to get through swim lessons despite loving and enjoying them. I don’t know if he just isn’t sleeping well at night, or if he has some sort of vitamin/mineral deficiency (thinking about iron specifically). He also hasn’t been eating much, but that isn’t a new thing; compared to the other two he has never been a big eater. His four-year well check is in just two months so for now my plan is to try to get him in bed earlier and facilitate naps when possible.
  2. Paul went up to Prescott for his first business-related trip this week! He even got to deliver a short presentation at the conference! Aubade is definitely missing him though, and while it sometimes seems like the boys don’t care whether he is here or not, Rondel has told me several times that he wishes Daddy were back. There’s something special about getting to share everything with him at the end of the day when he comes from work.
  3. Corollary to take 3, I’ve been doing bedtime for all three kids instead of splitting the responsibility with Paul; the first night Aubade got to fall asleep on her own while I put the boys down, and the second night the boys got to fall asleep on their own while I put Aubade down. I can’t recall any previous night where I have left their bedroom and they have fallen asleep without tears or trying to follow me out, but this time they were out in less than fifteen minutes without any complaints. It was amazing (and so needed, as Aubade was having a really hard time).
  4. We had a playdate with a new family I met online through an unschooling group! It was really neat to watch Rondel running around with a kid around his same age, both of them being monsters and hand-flapping and trying to climb crazy rope ladders and getting scared and not really talking to each other but definitely playing together. A couple weeks ago a younger girl we know from church made a comment about Rondel chewing on his shirt (it’s one of his stims, and a pretty innocuous one honestly) and that being kind of weird or gross; this new friend didn’t see a problem with it at all (and in fact I noticed her experiment with chewing on the collar of her shirt as well). So that was also really encouraging to me, as I’m trying to find friends among whom Rondel can fit in while being himself.
  5. Random thought of the week – why do so many people make such a big deal out of autistic kids lining up their toys? I mean, is it really so strange? I think some behaviorists see it as “abnormal” play, or play reflecting a lack of imagination, but I don’t know how accurate that is. I know when Rondel lines up his toys, it is usually because they are on some sort of migration. I also know that my mom used to line up toy cars and drive them on parade as a child, and that my daughter likes to line her toys to display them – and they are both neurotypical. There is just something so nice about a line, especially as opposed to a pile…
    IMG_0624
    image is of a blond toddler sitting on a curb against a wall, head turned towards a line of toy Triceratops also on the curb. She was very particular about only selecting the Triceratops from the dinosaur box…

     

  6. Both boys mastered the “l” sound and the “tw” sound this week! When they are counting, eleven and twelve come out far clearer than before. I am so proud of the effort they’ve put into it, and they are so pleased with their newfound ability 🙂 Rondel still has moments where he doesn’t want to try to say sounds the correct way, because it’s hard and he thinks he can’t do it, but he tries often enough that he’s improving. Limerick tries no matter what, and he’s improving in leaps and bounds. Hopefully soon they’ll have their pronouns completely straightened out as well – it really confuses strangers and other children when they use “you” to refer to themselves.
  7. We had one random day of rainy cool weather this week – the high was in the mid-80s instead of around 100 where it has been hovering – and very conveniently our AC decided to break that evening after everything was cooled down already. It was rather dramatic: I was out back playing with the boys after sunset, when we heard a loud pop and saw sparks on the roof. I tried to turn on the AC to test it (and to bring the temperature down from 83 to 80 for bed), and nothing happened. It turns out a poor-quality wire had been rubbing on a piece of metal long enough that the insulation wore away and the humidity in the air enabled an arc to form between the two, shorting the wire and blowing a fuse. Fortunately, since the highs are going back up to 100, it was a quick and easy fix and we had AC by the time the external temperatures reached 90. But, as the AC repairman warned us, it is an old unit that has had some shoddy repair work done in the past, so we’ll most likely need to replace it in the next 2-3 years. Ah home ownership 🙂

I hope you all had a great week, whether it fell into the swing of your normal routines or stretched them a bit out of shape! And I hope that you are finding friends – or keeping friends – who love you and accept you just the way you are. Those types of friends can be hard to find, and they really are as precious as silver and gold.

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 7

This week the boys have been practicing writing numbers and letters on their own!

Rondel has always struggled a bit with fine motor skills, but recently he has been developing a lot more control and finesse, so he’s been starting to show more interest in actually writing things himself; he has a tendency to flip letters and numbers around when writing and reading, and left-to-right directionality doesn’t come naturally, but his writing is getting noticeably better the more he does it.

Limerick, on the other hand, was obsessed with letters at 18 months and could write rough approximations of all of them in sidewalk chalk at that age. His handwriting now is quite clear with chalk, and a bit more wobbly but still legible with pen or pencil (I think the thicker chalk is easier for him to control than the narrower options). The only number he consistently reverses is the 6, and he only occasionally needs to verify which side the “1” should be on when writing the number “10.” He can also write much more quickly than Rondel.

Despite these differences of background and innate ability, I’ve never heard the boys compare themselves or their writing (and I try not to either, when they are around to hear it!). They are both just doing their best, continually learning and improving, excited about each other’s accomplishments and encouraging each other to try new things.

Anyway, we got together and over a couple days drew a human-sized numbered game board on the driveway, taking turns writing the numbers until Limerick completely took over around 78 and continued all the way to 196. (Since then we’ve washed the driveway off and completely covered it with different variations on number lines and letters multiple times… it’s all he wants to do whenever the ground is cool enough to tolerate).

We also discovered a free app this week called ABC Kids that offers alphabet tracing games; I didn’t think the kids would be interested, but Rondel has spent hours carefully tracing the letters, both upper and lower case, in the correct directions and with the recommended motions, which I can only imagine is good for his fine motor development as well as his familiarity with the letters and handwriting skills. (The app supposedly offers phonics as well, but since we can’t get the sound to work it doesn’t, functionally at least. But it is great for tracing, for matching lower and upper case letters, and for identifying words beginning with each letter.)

So that has been our focus this week! Writing, writing, and more writing, in all different media! Maybe we’ll try finger-painting some letters and numbers next 🙂

Posted in book lists, family life, information, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 6

Due to his love of rain and his constant desire to know exactly when things are going to happen, Rondel has begun to ask me questions about the weather constantly. And because I never properly learned about the weather to begin with, there wasn’t much I could tell him.

So we did what we always do when faced with a topic of ignorance and armed with a thirst for knowledge: we went to the library and came home with books!

There are surprisingly few books about clouds, and no books that I could find at our library specifically about Arizona or desert weather, at least not at my kids’ comprehension level. But these three are not bad, and we’ve learned a lot from them.

Look at the Weather, by Britta Teckentrup, is a beautiful, artistic book, filled with gorgeous atmospheric drawings, leading questions and statements about the personal impact of weather, and interesting scientific facts about weather. Each page tends to have only a few sentences, so although the book is very thick it doesn’t take nearly as long to read as one might expect. It will walk you through the build-up to a storm, for instance, painting the gradual accumulation of clouds slowly, until you almost feel the tension of it around it. But it will also give you tidbits of very fascinating information – I never knew how hail was formed until Teckentrup explained it here, for example!

The Man Who Named The Clouds, by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub, is really more of a biography of Luke Howard, the man who invented the precursor to our current scientific classification system for clouds, than a book actually about clouds – but there is a serious amount of scientific information included. I particularly appreciated the diagram towards the end of the book illustrating the current cloud classification system, and we’ve been attempting to classify the clouds we see when we are out and about each day (we saw mostly cirrus clouds today; Rondel is holding out hope for some cumulonimbus clouds since they are the type of rain clouds we typically get with the monsoons!). Overall this book was a bit above the boys’ heads, and not completely aligned with their area of interest, but by skimming and omitting while I was reading it aloud we managed to get a lot out of it anyways. On a second read through I will probably include more, depending on how it seems to be holding their attention.

Clouds, by Anne Rockwellis probably the book best-suited for answering Rondel’s questions about clouds at his level. But I haven’t read it with him yet! We’ve been distracted with the other books, and he’s caught the virus the rest of us have been passing around so we’ve been a bit preoccupied with that. This book also has instructions at the end for creating a small cloud in a jar, and I’m looking forward to doing that with the boys. From reading the book on my own, this should reinforce the information we gleaned from The Man Who Named The Clouds, and be a short, easy way to soak up more weather-related knowledge. The Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out series, of which this is a part, has been in my experience a good source of basic knowledge on any science topic we happen to have questions about.

While we continue enjoy these books, I’m going to continue searching for books about our local weather; we live in a fairly unique ecosystem, and I’d love to learn more about the weather patterns and seasonal changes specific to the Sonoran Desert. Please let me know if you have a good resource on this!

(And if you were curious about how hail is formed, here is what Britta Teckentrup has to say:

“Hail is caused when the wind sweeps raindrops up into higher, cooler parts of a cloud before they get a chance to fall. They freeze in the cold air. When the ice droplets begin to fall, sometimes the wind catches them and sweeps them to the top of the cloud again. They can cycle up and down inside the cloud several times, adding layers of water and ice as they go.

“Eventually, the ice balls become too heavy for the wind to carry upward, and they fall as hail.”

So the stronger the wind, the bigger the hail can get! Now I understand why we typically only see hail in our craziest, most intense storms – only they have strong enough winds to lead to the formation of hail.)