I found an old journal (last part of 2007) in a stack of novels hidden behind a chair in my little “office”. I am usually very careful with my journals, keeping them together and safe. This one isn’t the usual black moleskine but a fancy cloth one given to me by a friend, and that’s probably why it was separated. I opened it, curious about the year 2007, and on page one I read:
I’m going to write a new story. A short story, an essay, a novel, a poem, or maybe a definition, an etymology, or a map or itinerary, a history, a geography. I don’t know yet. I have some inklings. It will be “American” in that it will be concerned with situating me – someone – in a landscape. “Situating” is perhaps not the word: letting her be, get lost, find her way. And it will be “American” as in “natural”, nature-bound: about the freedom and potential and the rule of nature, and mourning it. No matter what will be the point of writing it, I need write it, on pen and paper, scratch it as much as write it: ETCH it and so it is alive.
Even if you despair about the future, you still need to take care of the present. It is in the present that your urge, you life, soul, animus exists, lives. It may aim towards and work for tomorrow, next year, “retirement”, but it aims and works now.
They’re connected: writing, the story and the now. I’m still doing that, four years later, asserting a story (my imagination, my freedom), in the present (the way things are), to be able to face an uncertain future. I guess that’s my way of coping, living.
In the meantime my neighbor’s pine tree has interposed itself between the sun and my office window and I can feel its shadow on my back. In Winter in an unheated house one is so close to the edge, the margin between warm enough and cold is so narrow a tree makes all the difference.
Amie has taken to writing me letters – she’s been watching My Neighbor Totoro, in which the oldest girl writes letters to her mother. I can’t come anywhere near her when she is writing. “Don’t look!” she says – not aware, perhaps, that I can hear her perfectly as she sounds out what she is spelling!
(Dear Mama I had an exciting day how are your days)
(Dear Mama I love you are you okay I am okay thank you for the message love Amie)
(Dear Mama I am at the airplane woops I am at the school had to hop off the airplane)
As you can see she is using invented spelling and I am letting her, though in my responses I of course use the American English spelling, and I take the opportunity to discuss some words. In her first note, for instance, she wrote “deer Mama”. In the second and third one she had corrected it to “dear”.
What a treat this is! I stick the notes in my journal, and she keeps mine in a special box.
Today is the Valentine’s party at Amie’s preschool. We got the dreaded note on Monday: “Please have your child bring 20 Valentine’s cards to school on Friday.” So all of this week we worked on the cards, handmade entirely out of scrap paper. Last year I’d say I did 75% of the work, this year only about 30%. Next year, I told her, she’d be responsible 100%. Amie also made cards for her teachers, and she wrote their names on the back: Meree (Mary), Soosin and Soosin, and Raylee. Of course I forgot to take a picture, just like last year.
Happy Valentine’s Party Day!
We’re all retreating into the living room around the warm fire. There’s so much to do in this contracted world.
Not a day goes by when Amie doesn’t work at her art. She’ll often pronounce “I am practicing because I want to be an artist.” She enjoyed discovering the technique of splashing by rubbing an old toothbrush over a net. She also likes our instruction book on how to draw basic animal figures (ours is an out-of-print Usborne). She was intrigued when I drew some circles and proposed she draw the basic emotions. She got them down right without my help, contorting her face to feel the shape of her mouth, her eyes and nose.
Lions, step by step, from How to Draw Animals
Trying the toothbrush and net splash technique, and the result:
Girl on a bike, from a (paused) video
The last drawing was made from a tiny video still, and Amie became very frustrated with it because it wasn’t turning out exactly the way it looked on the screen. I explained that it was a very difficult subject – the word “subject” is now her favorite – and that the example was really too small. Still, she was nearly in tears, and I cursed myself for not gently leading her away from the project. l will be conscious of this perfectionist streak in her and help her keep it under control. I know how it can ruin the fun! (Also read Lori’s helpful advice in the current Camp Creek Blog thread).
Our 100-books-a-month table, with list
Amie is reading spontaneously now, here and there. Only last week she deciphered “Reese’s Buttercup” and “travel” and “cheese,” all of her own accord. Three-letter-words are read fluently, as well as certain sight words like “the” and “and”. Four-letter-words will soon be rolling off her tongue as well.
I know that at her preschool (Montessori) she uses cards and lists of words and all kinds of reading aids, but here at home she just reads books. She has mostly stopped trying to guess what the words could be by looking at the pictures – not all “first books” are clever in that regard! – but she’s good about using the context of the story and the sentence to speed up her reading. In our 100-book-a-month challenge we are aiming for 1 out of 4 to be read by her.
Amie lists another title
Writing does not come as spontaneously as reading does, but she has gone from penning nonsense words and collections of letters to spelling out real words. When I suggest she write the title of a book we’ve read in our 100-books list, she readily grabs the pen and sets to the job. She will read the words and spell them out as she writes them down, or she’ll copy the letters of the more difficult ones and wonder aloud why some are spelled the way they are. What can I say, English is a funny language! For the latter though I’d rather she use invented spelling than mere copying, which becomes automatic and then she mindlessly forgets letters.
We are now starting to pay attention to her penmanship: the size of the letters (I draw lines) and whether she wants to use capitals or small letters. She still feels more comfortable with the capitals.
Amie will happily spend half an hour on algebra exercises, but usually only with constant encouragement or if we sell it as “homework”. She’ll also do basic exercises on DH’s Ipod. She can solve:
5+8 – _
For anything under 5 and the addition or subtraction of 1 she no longer needs her fingers, doing them in her head – though sometimes it helps her to imagine cookies. She’ll still resort to her fingers, and her toes if need be, for the higher numbers, and we usually stay under 20. We don’t use flash cards but cheapo math books, because she likes to make that mark. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but she does like a sticker as lure and reward, and it helps if the math is presented as a game, like a maze.
We already read about 100 books a month, only they’re often the same ones. (Could it be we sometimes read the same book 100 times? It sure seems that way sometimes!) So our challenge will be to read 100 different books.
Part of the challenge will also be to give Amie a better idea of what “a hundred” means. She is in her exaggeration stage: everything “a hundred and a million!” nowadays. And though she needs no help with addition and subtraction (up to 20), those hardly contribute to estimation.
We also discussed what “challenge” means. We agreed on a definition: “something we do that is not easy, but a bit difficult but still not impossible for us to do and that is fun and that we learn from”.
Amie is in charge of keeping the list – I hope she catches on to the fun and usefulness of keeping lists. We might also make little notes about whether we liked the book or not, and why, and if we would reread it. Amie will also be reading to me, so watch out for some “first books” on the list as well.
So far (today) we’ve read:
“Mama, when you see it IN your eyes, but not outside your eyes, it’s a dream, right?”
“That’s why when you open your eyes it’s no longer there.”
“Mama, Peter Pan [movie] is made up of pieces.”
“Yes, like Kipper: episodes.”
“No, Kipper episodes are stories by themselves. Peter Pan episodes are all part of one big story!”
We do a lot of outdoors stuff too, when it’s not too hot – especially gardening, and taking walks around the block. I forget my camera though.
What with all the gardening around here it’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s non-gardening doings and goings. Here are some newer developments.
We’re working on her letters. She recognizes all the upper and lower case and can sound out and read three-letter words:
But writing them is something else altogether, especially those pesky rounded lower cases. Numbers too are a challenge. So this spring break we’re working on all those.
These days Amie sees us writing a lot of checks (unfortunately) and she was curious what that was about. I explained it to her and even found an old checkbook from a defunct account for her to play with. She wanted to write out her first check to me!
- How much do I owe you, Mama? she asked
- Oh, I said, by the time we’re done, mm… about a million
No problem. She asked our co-houser to help her fill it in, and when he – we call him Rabbit, so I’m going to start referring to him as Rabbit as of now – started writing in the amount, she changed her mind. When he had formed “10″ she said:
- I want to pay Mama ten million dollars!
When he had added another 0, she said:
- Yes, a hundred million dollars!
She is so very generous!
She has been doing some multiplication with single digit numbers and division by 2. She needs her fingers and concrete things to do it: “If we have 6 ice cream sandwiches and there’s 2 of us, how many do we each get?” works, but “What is 6 divided by 2 make?” doesn’t.
Her Baba also taught her to add up a big and a small number. For instance, 76 + 4. This is how she explains it: You put the big number in your head: 76 (pinches thumb and index fingers together and touches her forehead, turning them and making a creaking sound, as if turning a key in a lock). Then you put the smaller number on your fingers (arranges her hand so 4 fingers are out). Then you count: 76, (takes away one finger) 77, (takes away another finger) 78, (takes away another finger) 79, (takes away last finger) 80!
She is not only a mathematician, like her Baba, but also a metaphysician, like her Mama (used to be). The other day she was acting all grumpy and DH observed that she was becoming a two-year-old again.
- No-o, she said, I can’t go back; I can only go forward.
I’ve been quiet about Amie’s reading and writing here because it’s tough to know where she stands. One day she reads and writes enthusiastically, the other day she won’t even write her own name properly (and that she has been able to do since she turned two).
She has been reading simple words, slowly stringing the sounds together and in some cases sight-reading them (“the”, for instance). Yesterday we made a quick visit to the mall (I know! It was horrendous. I got a splitting head ache. But we had to pick up our new glasses) and as we drove by she read: “S-Eh-Ah-Ruh-S” but couldn’t make sense of the word. She listened carefully to our explanation that “E and A in this case sounds like Eee, but sometimes it sounds like Eh, as in BEAR”. Wow, it must be so confusing to her! But she takes it all in stride.
She can also do the process in reverse, spelling out the words. She can isolate the sounds pretty well and then write them down as she hears them. She can write all the letters, even the S, sometimes mirroring them.
Some days ago sat with her as she drew the picture above. It’s of Santa and a snowman (for some reason she drew these upside down, getting the smiles right) and Mama (“with sweet fluffy ears”). I helped her practice her S and spell “Santa Clos”. Later on, when we were not around, she wrote on top, in a combination of pen and sticky letters:
When I asked her what it means, she said:
She hadn’t quite remembered how to spell the EE sound, so she had invented her own sign for it.
So is she writing now? She’s playing at writing, that’s for sure. We should all still be playing at writing. I am, for the most part. Are you?
Amie has always been interested in recognizing letters, and she has been able to write her name for many months, but it was more an exercise in memory than real writing. She can analyze the first and the last sounds in a word, but not the ones in between yet, unless it is an easy word like “Mama”. Yesterday we were drawing with chalk on our driveway when, she spontaneously wrote out “Mama”.
Then she asked to learn more letters. I taught her the easier ones: from E she can make L and F, for instance. The most difficult one was B,which she wanted because she wanted to write “Boo” (her favorite character from “Monsters, Inc.”). She turned B into a stick with two circles. Then I asked her to write “Moo” too, and she did:
Then the next attempt:
I know I’m not being consistent with the large and small case letters, and that really one should start children off on the small case ones. But that’s how writing develops in the organic (chaotic) context of our home. But she’ll be starting preschool on the eighth. She’ll be going to a Montessori school, so I’m relieved there will be some professional help with her new enthusiasm.
She also drew this:
Yes, it really is a “dead bunny rabbit [oops, my misspelling], not a real one!”