Friday Field Trip: California Academy of Sciences

Diver MarkWhat a fun day. For our first Friday Field Trip, we used the Discover and Go library card and got in for free at the California Academy of Sciences. I had to use two library cards since the pass is only one adult one child. I was afraid they would want the other adult to be there but that was not the case.

By the time we got to the museum with my friend Inigo and her son Raven, it was 11am. We had to first exchange our pass for tickets.  What a great place, architecturally. When you enter there is a “plaza” area that is open with skylights. You can eat there and it’s where some of the presentations are. We sat and ate our bagels and jerkeys while waiting for the 11:30 Skulls Detective show.  The academy is having a big special Skulls exhibit right now.

A woman dressed as a detective led the children into examining a skull and figure out what kind of animal it is. Unfortunately, Astroboy was scared by the loud mic and I had to take him way back while Thumper stayed in the front. So I have no idea how the presentation went.

Next, we dragged the kids to the special skulls exhibit.  “I don’t want to go….”, whined Thumper.  She forgot all that when we were hit with a large skull of an elephant on the wall, with the elephant painted behind it to give us a sense of what it looks like.  They ran to the interactive display of 4 different skulls. Who doesn’t love to push buttons?  We looked at skulls of animals with eyes looking front vs side.  They ignored the wall of hundreds of sea lions skull, the exhibit of different skulls of same type of animal (dogs, birds).   What fascinated the children the most was the beetles that ate/cleaned a dead head carcass. It helped that we’d just discovered a decomposing rat in our crawlspace. I told the kids maybe the rat was being eaten by beetles (their Baba later confirmed it was maggots). This somehow brought it home for them.  Astroboy wanted to watch the fast motion video of beetles cleaning off a sea lion skull in 4 days.  He wanted to go back again and again and stare at the live display of various animals being cleaned by beetles scurrying about.  Thumper meantime had fun trying to draw a picture of a skull through a special lens that kind of maps the skull in front of you onto paper for you to trace.

By now it was way past lunch time so we stopped for more chocolate chip bagels before we headed to the Rainforests of the World display.  It’s under the big round skylight dome you can see from outside the academy.  You enter at the first floor and walk in a spiral to the top, where it gets hotter and hotter. I loved the displays here too because there were butterflies and birds just flying about. The kids wanted out though because it was so hot, so we walked up to the Living Roof, where Thumper was fascinated by a guy with a rolling cart talking about how the roof was built. It’s got 3 inches of coconut coir, 3 inches of soil, plastic egg crates, etc.  We learned the that roof is built to withstand the weight of 20 million pounds of water and that said water gets channeled to a cistern to water Golden Gate Park!

We took the elevator downstairs to the basement Steinhart Aquarium level, where the kids happened upon the Meet the Diver talk.  They watched the fish being fed and someone explain that there are 2000 fishes in the aquarium of the Philippine Coral Reefs exhibit.   The fish were the most colorful ones I’ve ever seen in a museum, with a great diversity.

The children wanted to go back up and talk to diver Mark, so off we went to ask him some more questions, point out Nemo and have more snack. By this time everyone is waning as it’s 3pm and quiet time. But we soldiered on and looked at the albino alligator living in a swamp next to the plaza, then down backstairs to pet the star fishes. We kind of just wondered by this point with lots of little breaks as everyone was getting antsy and hungry.  I had just a few bagels all day and was ravenous.  But we had to squeeze in the Earthquake exhibit.  Thumper sat it out because she is freaked out by earthquakes.  I went in with the other two kids and experienced both the Loma Prieta and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Before we know it it was 5pm so we decided to head to the Cheesesteak Shop for dinner. I wolfed down a 10 inch sandwich then share another 10 inch with Inigo.  SO HUNGRY.

It took us 1.5 hours of driving home in Friday sf traffic. I thought I would just collapse when I get home, the kids did but I stayed up and watched two more dramas.


I really loved the museum. When I first arrived I was weary because I honestly do not enjoy taking the kids to museums.  Often I think, “But the kids are just playing with buttons and learning nothing!” or “This would be so much more interesting if we had learned about it a little first so the children won’t just go from activity to activity, just pushing buttons randomly.”  But the exhibits were done in such a way that were conducive to learning, or to really evoke interest for further study and questions at home.  You can also really see the difference between 7 year old vs a 4 year old.  The 7 year old is looking and listening and will think up questions to ask when she goes home.  The 4 year old is just taking it in sensorially.

This is a great museum to go to when studying sea animals and rain forests ecosystem. I had wanted to go to the planetarium since the first great lesson is about creation of the universe but only 7 year olds can go see the planetarium so we did not go. My friend Inigo who knows a lot about reptiles say they’ve got really great reptile animals on display. It’s a great new building where the main exhibit (rainforest and related sea animals) are beautiful to see.

Next time, I just need to pack more food than bagels.


When your child refuses to go to school

Astroboy didn’t go to school today. Well, more like he didn’t want to change his clothes and brush his teeth to get ready for school. So it came down to a battle of wills where I say “If you don’t brush your teeth and change your clothes you can’t go to school”, and he continues playing as if he didn’t hear me.  He stayed upstairs most of the 3 hours.

The battle of wills lasted the whole morning till lunch time. He came downstairs twice and each time I told him he had to leave because he wasn’t dressed and a crying fit ensues when I try to physically remove him from school.  Not my best moments in positive discipline.  I kept reminding him about this rule and also telling him he can’t eat lunch either since he’s not ready for the day.  But he kept ignoring me.

In the meantime, Thumper is dressed and prepped for the day and waiting by the door by 9:40am with her new pet dog.  It’s a mechanical little dog which barks and walks back and forth.  She put a leash on it made out of string and also sewed a patched hoodie for it made out of felt.  I love the things she dreams up and the fact that there are no real materials are no deterrent.  She will make things out of paper if she needs to.

Thumper started the morning cutting some origami papers. While she worked, I organized my math and language boxes and dug out my Chinese calligraphy set finally. She immediately dropped what she was doing and tried that for an hour. I moved upstairs to organize my suitcase of Montessori math materials I got from Alison’s Montessori and she followed me.  She played piano for half an hour or so, ate snack for another half, then cleaned up her calligraphy after I asked her to. We ran out of things to do by this point and so I read to her a bunch of questions from the “100,000 Why” book.

As you can see, all in all not a very self-directed morning.  Astroboy has whined about keeping me company as I go up and down the stairs organizing my boxes and we’ve had several battles of will as Thumper worked.  She actually felt really bad for him and wanted to console him.

I decided to make sushi for lunch.  When Astroboy came over to the dining room table, I told him he couldn’t make it as he didn’t change out of his pajamas. He insisted he was just watching and will not join us in the activity.  At this point I finally gave up trying to get him to do the right thing.  I knew I will just calmly enforce my rules but otherwise he’s fine to do other things. And of course, after a few minutes into our sushi making, he declares, “Mama, I want to brush my teeth.” Hallelujah.

Our first sushi lunch didn’t turn out too badly. A 7 year old is really at a whole different level of skills. I showed Thumper once and she got it, including how to hold her fingers in correctly while using a knife. They wolfed down their lunch, she put her dishes away while Astroboy refused. I prepped dinner and then we rushed out the door at 2:15pm to go recycle, and pick up Baba. Of course Astroboy decides right before we leave he’s going to cleanup the table and wipe his table.

What I learned today:
Today was obviously one of those “Nothing is going right and the kids and I will keep butting heads” day.

From a Positive Discipline standpoint, I really just failed.  I failed the moment I tried to make Astroboy do something.  I’ve been trying the “Follow through without making it an battle of wills”.  I give myself a little pat because I followed through at least.  Thank goodness we’re homeschooling.  If we had to go to school I would either have to force him to dress or let him go in his pajamas. BUT, I didn’t really do it the right way.

It’s clear that Astroboy is really entering a stage of asserting his independence. Just a month ago he was quite willing to put dishes away and dress himself when asked and now he shows his stubborn personality (way more stubborn than his sister) when it comes not wanting to do something.  One thing I should have done was to just make clear to him the rules of the house and leave it at that. Rather than repeating things over and over again.  The repetition made it a battle of wills and what he can’t do if he doesn’t follow my desires becomes a punishment.

The other thing I should have done was to just take a step back and be really mindful of the situation.  These things gradually escalates because I’m not getting my way and I’m getting more and more annoyed at the fact someone is not doing what I want and I get more and more insistent on getting MY WAY and inventing new ways to getting my way.  If I stepped back a bit, I will remember what my goal is, which is really having the child independently change clothes and prep for the day, not having a compliant child.  With a clearer mind I might have come up with better ways to achieve that goal.

The thing is, Astroboy didn’t get enough sleep last night and noone was in the mood.  He moped in the room for 30 minutes at a time today, just laying in bed. Clearly he was hungry and sleepy.  So I also need to make sure he gets enough sleep.  I think some of my friends think I obsess too much about sleep and link misbehavior with it too often.  But it is always very clear to me when a child wakes up and isn’t happy go lucky he is lacking sleep. I feel really bad for teachers facing roomful of children who lack sleep and having to entice them to work.

What I need to try:
These two weeks have turned out to be observation week.  I notice the kids and I naturally want to stop about 1.5 hours into work and get a snack.  We get hungry by that time.  I also notice that that last hour has been a wash because snack happens upstairs and they don’t actually do much work after that before it’s lunch.  However, they will then play really well together for about 1-1.5 hours after lunch.  I’ve always been of the opinion that what Montessori observed about concentration and work is related to hunger and food.  So I need to figure out a way for the children to have a bigger breakfast so they last longer and need a smaller snack.

Third Day: Playdough and boredom

Today was not as good.  Am I going to last a whole week?

Today Thumper was still really eager to go to school. She again dressed herself, folded her blankets, and bushed her teeth without prompting and was lining up outside of “school” before I was ready. Even Astroyboy requested to have my help in changing his clothes with him.  Different from me nagging and chasing him down daily.  I told him changing clothes was his work so he can do it at school but that’s the nice thing about having multiple kids in school. He wanted to get dressed like his sister.

Thumper wanted to write a book. She got her own paper and cut them into little rectangles. She then started writing and illustrating. That took her about an hour or so before she got distracted.

Astroyboy was bored so I directed him to the play dough and that kept him interested for an hour as well. He was bored again so I directed him to snack. Thumper had some as well. She then went back to drawing but since Astroyboy was still aimless I read 4-5 books to him. Thumper got distracted and listened in as well.

I was just looking at the clock that last hour waiting for 1pm to come. There’s nothing like bored kids and feeling like you have to entertain them. I ran upstairs at 12:30 again to wash the dishes in preparation for lunch and Astroyboy read himself in the chair until I came back down to ask them to clean up.

Cleanup is nagging time right now. Sigh

We had a LONG lunch from 1-3pm. The kids made their own Mac and Cheese with my help but then didn’t want to eat it as it didn’t taste like Trader Joe’s.

I just CRASHED after cleaning up. The kids went off to play while I took a little nap before we rushed to swim practice. Astroyboy helped me make tortilla for dinner (Practical Life!) and then it was Chinese DVDs to help them with retaining Mandarin.

Thoughts on Today:
I have to credit the 3 years of Montessori school that gets Thumper self motivated to want to do her own writing. I’m happy I read to Astroyboy. One thing I always feel guilty about was not doing nightly reading so it’s good we now get it in during school.

I love that homeschooling really means all day schooling as Astroyboy had a lot of fun making tortillas tonight.  Here is definitely an area that fits with Montessori’s observations.  Thumper, who could actually make the tortillas with just a little directing, does not really want to cook anymore.  Whereas Astroboy, without prompting, often asks to help.  This is why Practical Life is mostly in Primary classroom.

I will try:
The afternoon routine is still in a flux. We didn’t get our walk in after lunch and will probably never get it in.  I was trying to figure out yesterday how to do 3 hour work period without circle time and clean up time.  After asking around, I’ve decided we will try and do 3 hour uninterrupted and additional prep lunch time outside of that. We’ll work to that goal.

I’m also crashing daily after 3 hours and it drags our time out in the afternoon. I did some mental calculations yesterday to see how long children are at public/private school typically and arrived at 4.5-6 hours of instruction. That’s a lot! I was thinking maybe school 7 days a week as who says school is only for weekdays? But no matter how I count, I needed 5 hours of work time daily to be equivalent. I need to rethink it some more since we have longer school years to begin with and with two kids you get through curriculum faster anyway.

I need to set up a snack schedule because I want a variety of snack rather than arare everyday. Maybe after my breakfast schedule is set. The snacking upstairs thing I’m not sure about since it feels like they’re leaving school. But on the other hand I remembered that it’s free choice if Astroyboy really gets distracted after snack by the toys upstairs and wants to stay there.  It really means I’m not making the school environment interesting for him.

Actual First Day of Homeschooling

Our first day of school was pretty successful. The kids work up at their usual time and I decided on the spot school was going to start at 10am based on how long I thought I could get the kids “ready”.  I’d been prepping he kids the last two weeks by telling them we would start school this week. They, especially Thumper, were apparently more excited than I realized. I guess that’s what happens when you play for 9 months.

Thumper actually rushed to brush her teeth and get dressed in 30 minutes.  Amazing considering we typically take 1.5 hours to get out of the house in the morning.  She was so early I told her to grab her little chair and line up outside the school “door”.

Our homeroom is half of our old master bedroom.  I love this set up because now there is a dedicated room for the adults’ computers and the children’s school.   It’s separate from the play area upstairs so we can keep playmates out of the homeschool area.  Transition is also easier because there is a school the children can go to now that’s clearly delineated.  I pretended to be the teacher and kept saying “Oh no, the teacher is going to be late!”  I think it made the whole thing interesting and also familiar as both kids had gone to preschool before and are familiar with the routine.

The kids came into the classroom, I shook their hands, and gave them the rules and procedures of the classroom.  Something I learned just this summer that is important to establish before school starts.  I only have one right now though, only one item out at a time.  I showed the kids the Nienhuis catalogue and said we were going to make Grammer Symbols, first with playdough, as model, then air dry clay.

The kids played with play dough for about 1.5 hour.  I was really amazed that Thumper could concentrate on a task for so long without getting distracted.  We didn’t end up making the grammar symbols as I planned because I was busy researching as they worked and realized the symbols have to be proportional to each other. But the kids had fun making different geometric shapes anyway.

Astroboy started to get bored after an hour and I directed him to do snack upstairs. I can’t remember what they did the rest of the time. I think just playing with play dough and also Thumper wanted to write while Astroboy wanted to play with the Number Rods, which resulted in an impromptu lesson in counting. One thing neat to observe is how he is so into his sensitive period for counting and numbers.  Any chance he gets, that’s what he wants to do, count, through no prompting on my part.

I ran back upstairs at 12:30 to put together a ramen lunch while they worked.  It was really a blissful morning where the kids got along and had things to occupy them.  We then cleaned up and closed our door at 1pm.

The rest of the day we had quiet time, then went grocery shopping at Ranch 99.  All in all a pretty successful first day of school. I really enjoyed focusing my attention on the children for 3 hours. I like being mindful and not thinking of 5000 things while talking to them, saying filler words like “uh huh”, “yes”, when half the time I don’t know what it is they are saying.   It did take a lot out of me though since I’m introverted. I really needed that quiet time.

I learned today:
Though I had been beating myself up for not doing anything for 6 months other than cleaning and organizing the house, in hindsight I did actually do a lot. Since we were all staying home the first time, it was important to have HOME routines established. We had routines for cleaning up, prepping for school, quiet time, meals, chores, etc.

One big epiphany I learned from our elementary teacher last year was that the first 1-3 months of school is all about doing things to ensure normalization, meaning to help train the kids in concentration. It’s when rules and guidelines are established, when community is being built. We had a parent who was unhappy that the kids weren’t really “learning” yet. The teachers were doing a lot of “getting to know you activities” instead of math or reading/writing. But the teacher said there was a reason for this.  The kids started with lots of art because all children love doing art and it’s not stressful.  It’s a way to pull them into the classroom. She then moved on to math activities as that is one area that especially leads to concentration.  Montessori Math work invites repetition.  The kids were also learning how to get along, what the teachers’ expectations were, etc.   Without a good established learning environment, you can’t learn.  If the environment isn’t conducive to learning, whatever you’re teaching won’t stick anyway.

This is why we are doing art and prep now for the first two weeks.

I will try:

Our school time is going to be 10-1 for now. I was thinking an hour for lunch, an hour for quiet time, some time to do errands. but Astroboy ran wild when we were doing errands.  He kept misbehaving and not listening. We then need to go to swim practice, where he sat again waiting for 45 minutes.  I realized I had not built in some exercise time. So we are going to try half hour of walking after lunch tomorrow.

First Day of School

Today is our first day of homeschooling.  It has turned out to be like our other Mondays. In the morning we went grocery shopping, bought some air dry clay from Joann’s, and went to the new Apple store since my computer is dying. In the afternoon, we had a play date, then our first swim team practice for Thumper.

The practice went well if not a little weird.  No one was there to really greet us or give us an orientation.  We just jumped right into swimming.  Though Thumper has done really well in swimming classes, somehow it doesn’t seem to translate when she has to go back and use those yellow floaters.  She’s having some difficulties swimming that way.

Sunday night, though I had not finished unpacking, I dumped all the “to sort” piles on the floor into a box, lined up two tables in the center of the room, and put the rest of the plastic bins alone our French door.  The kids at least had a semblance of space to work.

My plan is to transition into home schooling. I’m going to have the children help me make materials the first two weeks, then both kids will go on vacation and spend a week with different grandmas, before coming back to start in earnest.  I’ve already mentally started a list of “to-do’s” for that week.

Before I decided on homeschooling, I did a quick google and a blogger suggested to not do any schooling for about 6 months as a transition.  It wasn’t my plan exactly but that’s what we ended up doing. Ours was more like 9 months since we first spent 3 months in Taiwan. This has turned out to be a really great transition.

The last six months, I adjusted to being a SAHM for the first time.  First came an reorg of the house since we moved in five years ago.  We actually bought furnitures for all the accumulated books and toys (3 tall bookshelves!  imagine how many books I had in boxes), dresser, TV stand.  Having storage was the first step in preparing the house for homeschooling.

We also gradually created a routine for ourselves.  Through trial and error, I slowly realized how I wanted to structure our days and our curriculum.  There is a weekly dinner menu which will be another post.  This is important as Practical Life is actually part of the curriculum.  We’re had a whole summer of swimming, enough for Thumper to qualify for the swim team. This will be one of her extracurriculars.  That is one of my epiphanies: Don’t create a big master plan.  Start with one or two things and slowly add.  It works better to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I’m still adding and tweaking to the final “master plan” daily, but right now, our schedule is as follows:

Monday – park day, errands and chore day
Tuesday-Thursday – homeschool AM
Friday– nature/field trip day

Our current extracurricular is swimming.  Otherwise it’s free play for now.  We will have school during public school holidays since every day kind of feels the same after awhile when you’re at home all day.  I’m going to try to have one week off school every three months, Sept, December (2 weeks), March. It’s roughly equivalent to a regular school year.

The Montessori school I visited in Taiwan had a bi-monthly field trip and I really loved that idea. Just as we’re easing into homeschool, we’re also easing into Montessori. Though typically field trips are planned by children, I’m going to plan them in the beginning so they match the curriculum.

Back to the two week prep-week part. A professor suggested that Montessori teachers can get students to help out with making materials since this can be a learning experience as well. I’m a strong advocate of active learning (learning by doing) so I’m quite excited about this. Out first project is going to be making the Montessori grammar symbols out of air dry clay.

I had to set a hard school start deadline for a few reasons. I was afraid that I will be in cleaning and prep mode forever if I had no deadline to motivate me. Once I had that deadline, I came up with the idea for prep week. I also started feeling anxious since school is starting for everyone else. We have not been in “school” for 9 months already, I didn’t want the kids to fall behind. I know I secretly feel like I have something to prove; that my kids will not only catch up but surpass her old classmates despite almost a year not in school. It’s silly and probably makes no sense. Add to that, my mom telling me every time we talk on the phone that it’s not natural for the kids to not go to school.  AND on top of it all, Mandarin immersion schools haven’t really figured out their curriculum, neither have Mandarin Montessori immersion schools.  That’s an additional thing to prove, that somehow my decision to homeschool in Mandarin is NOT detrimental to the children.

What should I do with my life?

CDsIt took me three days.  But I have finally wrangled my CDs and DVDs into some organization order.  Each disk and cover was painstakingly taken out of its case, sorted, then equally painstakingly put into a sleeve. The collection now takes up a fifth of the original space.

This, along with the myriad of other home organization I’ve been undertaking the last month makes me inordinately happy.  I have to stop myself from going on and on about it with my friends.  It’s kind of like that first baby tooth or first step, or first chocolate face.  So boring to other people but it puts some really good marbles into the “happy happy joy joy” jar.

I just finished reading Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life this week.  It’s a bunch of stories of people who asked themselves this question.  It’s really a book about people being discontented, and taking that plunge to make some changes.  Sometimes they fall into it, sometimes it’s a conscious choice, and still sometimes it takes try after try to get it right.  I’ve been trying to figure out what the message is; or what can you do to figure out what to do with your life.  I think ultimately it’s about living a life that fills your soul; living a life that conforms to your ideals and beliefs.

It may sound frivolous, but taking the time to organize my CD media does fill my soul.  There is a need in me to have an organized life and I’m finally getting that done now that I’m an SAHM.  I used to run around like a wanna-be superwoman.  But juggling a full time job, night school, volunteering at preschool 10-20 hours a week, didn’t leave room for cooked meals or clean house.  I thought the night school and volunteering made me happy.  To a certain extent they did.  Schooling challenged my brain after years of doing the same thing at work.  And volunteering provided some practice into the new job field I want to go to.

The home and children suffered though.  Being a SAHM the last half year has slowed down the pace.  So many people have told me that I’m more relaxed now.  I guess I was running around like a headless chicken, putting out one little fire after another, rather than doing some big management of said forest.

Sometimes I am still not sure if I made the right choice, if what I’m doing day to day is what I want to do with my life.  But there are many more moments now of happiness in a job well done: cooking dinner every day, organizing all those CDs, rearranging the kitchen drawers, labeling all the spices.  They’re so mundane and doesn’t sound on level with managing email servers or people.  Hence I keep feeling the need to figure out and explain why I’m so happy getting these done.  After reading Bronson’s book, I think I know why.  In my head, I do have an image of what my home life should be like, of what a wife and a mother ought to be doing.  And though I’m a feminist, its the traditional home wifey things like cooking, gardening, sewing, etc, that I think ought to be done if you keep home.  (Yes I know, being feminist doesn’t exclude this but typically the term does not conjure a Martha Stewart image.)

On top of all that, it goes back to my belief of the need to live a balanced life.  I feel that I’m living a balanced life when my house, in addition to my career, is in order.  To be able to not just make money, but to also enjoy the things that money cannot buy.   It is this sense of living that balanced life, the life where I’m enjoying what I do rather than hurried, I think that’s what fills me with contentment; living the way I envisioned and want to live.

If my kids were to ask me the “What should I do with my life” question, I think this is what I would tell them.  To be introspective and understand what it is one needs, to know the things that fills you with little joys daily.  The joys that money cannot buy.