Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So, um, about that summer homework

Guess I haven't been too good about reporting in on my kids' progress with their summer homework. Like my son who was supposed to blog every day under my late-summer regimen, I've been slacking. My daughter's homework routine is pretty much in ruins; she's been so stressed about the start of college that I've given her a break from the practice problems. I thought it would be something to take her mind off the wait, but I think it just made her more freaked out. So now, she can watch TV and browse Facebook uninterrupted all the way to the time that college classes begin. We all need a little slothfulness now and then.

My son, despite his non-blogging, has been doing pretty well with the summer homework. Well, we haven't really been reading too much either. Here's the problem I now discover with reading books together on the iPad -- he can always use "the battery's dead" as an excuse. I think he purposely runs the battery down so he'll be able to say that (not so easy, since iPad has a pretty long battery life). Next time, maybe we'll have to go for reading material without a screen.

The geometry and Spanish worksheets, however, he has been working on diligently and without complaint, and that fills me with hope for the school year ahead. I'm extremely pleased by how willingly he's worked -- that's such a large part of the battle, getting the kid to sit down to the homework and feel like the work's not over his head. My boy has always balked when he feels he can't do it, and that has not happened with any of the work this summer. Don't know how closely it will correspond to the actual geometry and Spanish that will be coming home, but it's a delightfully good sign.

Are your kids still homeworking? Are they in school already? We've got until next Tuesday. Less than a week. Counting down.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not exactly special delivery

This is apropos of nothing topical to this blog, but I gotta vent. My daughter used some of her work money this summer to buy an Apple TV so she could watch her iTunes shows on a screen bigger than her laptop. FedEx truck pulled up with it today, delivery guy jumps off the truck with it, drops it in the street, boots it a little picking it up, then walks over to where I'm standing, watching, and hands it to me like nothing happened. I said, "That's fragile, what you just dropped." And he's all, "Hey, it's under warantee, if it's broken send it back to the company." I got his name and he made like he was reporting the incident on his little handheld, but who knows.

Aside from the fact that if the thing doesn't work, FedEx should pay due to the butterfingered behavior of its delivery guy, sending it back isn't exactly a no-stress option. Pack it back up, wait for FedEx to get it, then wait all over again for a new one? Plus, it's always possible that damage done will take some time to show, by which time returning it may not be so easy. As it is, I can't even see if it's damaged yet because the cables that hook it to the TV come separately and haven't arrived. It looks OK, isn't making any loose-part rattling noises.

Accidents happen, and certainly I have no idea what's happening to these packages when they're out of my sight. They should be packed sufficiently to receive shocks. But at the very least, it seems to me that if you're a delivery person for a company that has a reputation as a premium shipper, and you toss a package on the street right in front of the consumer, it might be a good idea to say you're sorry, and act like this is something that deserves a response from you. Sheesh. Am I being overly sensitive here?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Word problems for the new economy

Today, my daughter's summer homework worksheet contained word problems about fractions. Most were fairly typical, but when we came to this one:
BMW is lying off 8000 employees worldwide. Of the 8000 employees from BMW’s layoffs, 5/8 of the employees received applications for some form of unemployment benefits. However only 3/4 of the laid off employees receiving applications completed and returned their applications to the unemployment offices. How many of the 8000 laid off employees actually applied for unemployment benefits?
Is this what we're coming to now? Word problems about layoffs? Will we be figuring out foreclosure losses on the next one, or calculating food-stamp savings? As if math wasn't already depressing enough.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer homework, Day 6

Pretty good hissy fit over homework today. Unfortunately, the fit-giver was me. I accidentally handed my daughter the answer sheet along with her problems to do, and she copied from it in a way so obvious that it was easy to catch her and impossible to understand why she would have cheated and lied about it. It's comforting, I guess, that she's so bad at being bad, so easily seen right through. But all the more reason for me to impress on her that she must. not. cheat. Even on stupid summer homework with Mom. Especially on word problems that aren't really that hard. Harumph.

Things went better with my son, who did his geography and Spanish without much fuss. The thing he's digging in his heels about is writing in his blog, which is supposed to be a fun way to practice writing. He does a great job with it when he does it. Wish I didn't have to nag so much, though. Then again, given my track record over the past year on this blog, maybe I'm not one to talk.

Friday, August 13, 2010

But What If They Can?

Our kids can't do that.

I hear that phrase a lot lately, when the topic turns to standardized testing, or Common Core State Standards, or inclusion run rampant. Not just from educators and IEP team members, though there's certainly enough eye-rolling and shoulder-shrugging from that quarter over the possibility of students with special needs doing what everybody else is doing. I suppose that's where we learn.

Join me over at Hopeful Parents for the rest of this post. I'll be writing there once a month.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer studying, Day 3

Continuing on with my plan to rob my children of precious summer hours by making them do homework for me.

My daughter did another PEMDAS worksheet, getting closer and closer to at least a passing percentage of correct answers. (By the way, if you're ever working on order of operations with your kids, this calculator rocks -- you can enter the whole long thing and get the answer without having to work it through yourself. Purely for parent use, mind you.) Mostly, now, it's carelessness. You really do have to go boringly step by slow step, not rushing things by combining stuff in and out of paragraphs or doing the figuring too hastily in your head. Good that she's doing all this practicing now, though, so maybe she'll have it together by class time. We read another chapter of The Color of Water, which she has pronounced to be a weird book. That won't get her off the hook.

My son's geometry homework involved looking at pictures of the flags of various countries and matching them to descriptions that use the names of many different shapes, triangles and polygons and dodecagons and trapezoids and what-all. I helped probably a little too much, but seriously, the descriptions were awfully convoluted. In Spanish, we moved on from a chapter about family members to one about rooms of the house. Not sure how much of this he's going to retain, but he's game to try it. We read another chapter in Bridge to Terabithia, and yes, the glasses made a difference.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer studying, Day 2

Another what-we-did-yesterday report on the progress of our summer homework. Running a day late with reports feels about par for the course.

So, yesterday: My son's Spanish worksheet involved translating phrases, and I was really impressed with how conscientiously he finished it, flipping back and forth to different lists of words to find the information he needed to translate a group of sentences from English to Spanish. I did talk him through it a little, but in past years he would have lost interest and attention even for listening to my instructions long before he got to the end. This time, though he yawned frequently -- that's what happens when a kid who moves to stay alert tries to sit still and pay attention -- he finished it all without protest. Ditto his geometry, which was a fun exercise using the concepts of "parallel," "perpendicular," and "intersecting" to find different things on a map. I'm starting to feel really hopeful about his ability to take on the challenging class placements we've got going for him this fall. Remaining patient through a long task is a big and necessary leap.

He was a little more antsy with our reading of another chapter of Bridge to Terabithia. Part of the problem was his sinuses, which were making his voice come out all nasal and through his nose. Hard to understand him, hard to speak clearly. A couple of spritzes of salt water up the nose every day may help with that. The other thing I remembered later is that he hasn't been wearing his glasses while we're reading. Funny how quickly we've forgotten those things in our nonacademic summer routine. Gonna have to dig 'em out.

My daughter and I spent half the day at an orientation for her college, but I still made her do worksheets when we got home. Mean mom. Order of operations was still the order of the day, since she'd done badly on them the day before. We sort of belatedly realized that, though PEMDAS accurately explains the order, the MD (multiplication/division) part has to be done in the same step from left to right, and ditto the AS (addition/subtraction). Once she got that in her head, her accuracy on the problems improved. I tell you, I need to study up on this stuff before I give it to her, not after she's screwed up. After the math, we read another chapter of The Color of Water, which alternates between short chapters in the mother's voice and long chapters in the son's. Yesterday was a son chapter. Much eye-rolling over the length ensued. It's OK, I'm used to it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How I made my kids miserable yesterday

Thought I'd keep some track here of how my kids are doing on that summer homework I mentioned last week, either as a record of success or lazy failure. Here's what we did yesterday, 8/9/10:

The Spanish workbook I'm using with my son tries to make things interesting by throwing in celebrity names -- as in yesterday's exercise, which required matching famous relatives with the Spanish terms that described their relationship (for example, "Goldie Hawn y Kate Hudson" with "La madre and la hija," "Luke y Owen Wilson" with "los hermanos," and "Darth Vader" with "El padre de Luke Skywalker." Cute idea ... except my son's awareness of popular culture pretty much ends at Nickelodeon and PBS Kids. So I had to explain who everyone was before he could have a good guess. Kind of wished we could skip over "Paris y Nicky Hilton" -- I try so hard to pay no attention to them at all.

Also on the table for my son was a geometry worksheet about identifying angles. This book also tries to make things fun, in this case presenting the angles to be identified as the legs of little cartoon gymnasts. Female gymnasts, with arrows pointing to their crotches so we knew just what angle was being asked for. I don't think it registered with my son, but ... maybe not the most tasteful way of presenting the information, ya know?

My daughter did a worksheet from the remedial math review sheets posted on her college's website, my bid to make her as prepared as possible for her upcoming remedial math class. This particular sheet was about order of operations, or PEMDAS as my kids have been taught to call it, and some of the problems were quite complicated, with exponents and square roots and parentheses and brackets. I had to Google for instructions a few times before I could help her out, and even then we came to the conclusion that one of the solutions on the answer sheet was just wrong. More often, though, it came down to her copying something incorrectly as she moved from step to step. Oops.

Because I am mean and want them to be unhappy, I'm also requiring them to read with me for the rest of their summer. Yesterday they each started books -- Bridge to Terabithia, iBooks for iPad version, for my son, and an old coffee-stained copy of The Color of Water for my daughter, who hates to read but will sometimes agree to nonfiction. She almost read The Color of Water her freshman year in high school, before the resource room teacher came back from maternity leave and supplanted the sub who thought that was a good idea. I saw it was on a list of books that might be used in her college remedial reading class, so we'll give it a try. I may have to do some pretty heavy bribing to keep her going.

What unpleasant academic chores are you forcing your kids to do? Share in the comments.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Keep your blog music to yourself

I'm afraid that this is going to come off sounding cruel, and I don't mean it that way, though it's something that often makes me mumble rude words under my breath. I know it's done with all good intentions, in an effort to create a particular atmosphere and share something precious and important. It's meant to be meaningful, not annoying, certainly, I understand that. But it's annoying nonetheless.

I'm talking about music on blogs.

If you've had a song written for your child, or a playlist of songs that your child enjoys, or an inspirational tune that always puts you in a peaceful frame of mind, it is entirely right and nifty that you should share it with the people who are reading your words. But would it be so bad to make it an opt-in experience? To have a big button up top that says, "Listen to my musical selections as you read?"? People would want to do that, I think, particularly if they're enthralled by the rest of your blog.

But when you make the music ring out every time someone hits your site, here's what happens, at least to me. I read blogs in my RSS reader. If it looks interesting, I hit the link to open the page in another tab. I keep reading, opening, reading, opening, and then suddenly I have unexpected music blending unpleasantly with the music I already have playing on iTunes. Then I either have to hit the mute button and lose the music I want to listen to, or scurry frantically through tabs searching, searching for the site making that noise, then scrolling furiously to find the off button, which is usually hidden in a sidebar somewhere, often with decoy idle music players for extra confusion.

So what was meant as a nice extra touch to website design becomes a reason for me to arrive at a site angry, cursing, and frustrated.

I started web writing in the early days of Geocities, in which adding as many gewgaws to your site as possible was the general idea. I was more Warrior Mom than Holly Hobbie, and the froufrou bothered me then. Maybe that's why the music bothers me now. Maybe I'm just always looking for something to be bugged by. Maybe I've written way more words about this than it deserves. What do you think? Does blog Muzak make you nuts too? Add your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer homework blues

My son had the last day of his summer job yesterday, and my daughter's is today. School doesn't start until September 7 and 8, so we've got a loooooooooooooong stretch of boring weeks ahead. One thing that's definitely on the agenda is getting to some of the summer homework I meant to have my son do -- a little geometry and Spanish to prepare him for the more mainstream classes he's going to have on those subjects in the fall. I'm trying to persuade my daughter that it would be a good idea for her to do some of the basic math review on her college's website to prepare for the remedial math classes she's taking. When I mention it, she looks like I'm asking her to spend her last precious days of summer digging coal out of the backyard.

The thing that stinks about these kind of summer projects for kids is that I have to be involved in them, and to do so I have to remember geometry and Spanish and higher math concepts, which I do not. I've been out of school for a while. Those brain cells are gone. So before I can sit down to guide my guy through a geometry worksheet, I have to go online and Google, "Quick! Explain geometry to me!" Feels a little like digging coal from this end, too.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Why we don't yell at teachers in public

The ever-helpful special-needs blog The Wrightslaw Way had a post today entitled Going Ballistic in a Public Forum - NOT Good Form! and I say, Amen to that. It gave me an unpleasant flashback to a Back to School night when my son was in first grade. Other parents in that class had a good gripe in that, due to personnel and space considerations, their kids had been kept in the same classroom for years instead of moving up to another self-contained class; meanwhile, younger kids (most noticeably my very small, very fidgety, just-up-from-pre-K guy) kept being added to the mix. I don't begrudge those parents their extreme pissed-offness ... but it was best directed at the special-education supervisor, in a meeting or a thoughtfully phrased letter. Yelling at the young teacher on Back to School night until you made her cry was just bullying, and the mom who did it damaged that class and my son in ways I've never entirely forgiven.

Yelling, anger, sarcasm, making a scene ... those things feel good, I know they do, and they give parents a feeling of power that is hard to come by. But they're a bad idea. They're never the best way to change the system. They always do damage to our ability to function as our children's advocates, even if they appear effective in the short run. We teach our children not to get down on the level of bullies, and we should take that advice ourselves. Treat those school personnel the way we would want them to treat us -- as partners, as knowledgeable professionals, as grown-ups.

Then, you know, start up a blog where you can pour out that venom in a more appropriate and anonymous venue.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Just to be safe

So apparently there's some bickering going on over the Restraint and Seclusion bill that was supposed to protect students with special needs against abusive behavioral practices in schools. According to a Disability Scoop post, the American Association of School Administrators is against the bill, and wants to change it to allow the specification in an IEP that for this particular student, restraint and seclusion are A-OK. A spokesman for the organization is quoted as saying, "We see it as a discussion to be had in advance with the expectation that you never have to use it. We would hopefully only be using it in emergency situations, but instead of being reactive you would be proactive."

Well, okay. Proactive is good. And in that spirit, how about if we also amend the law to add a provision allowing parents to sue a school district and prosecute a school administrator if restraint and seclusion are done improperly, in a way that injures or traumatizes a child, by personnel without proper training and support, in a classroom that's become a dumping ground for behavior problems, in a placement that does not work for the child in question, and/or when less invasive behavioral interventions like a Functional Behavior Assessment and a Behavior Intervention Plan have never been ordered, provided, or implemented.

You know, with the expectation that we'd never have to use it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Well, hello! Pay no attention to the five inches of dog hair on every available surface!

Wow, I just noticed that this blog was named as one of "ten blogs for special-needs parents" by SheKnows.com, along with some of my favorite parenting blogs. I'm honored to be in that company, and ... um, a little embarrassed by how infrequently I've been blogging here lately. It's like somebody invited everybody to your place for an open house, and you haven't cleaned in a really, really long time.

So if you've come here from that SheKnows list, hey, welcome! Remove that stack of newspapers from the sofa and have a seat! Pay no attention to the massive cobwebs in the corners! Just give me a few minutes to find my kitchen counter under all the old mail and dirty dishes, and I'll make you some coffee! The mold washes right out of the filter basket, no problem.

Seriously, I've been spending most of my writerly energy these days on my About.com site at http://specialchildren.about.com -- that's the writing that pays my bills, and keeps my kids in iTunes. Please stop by there and click around 20 or 30 times. I'll try to get some work going here again, too.