August 19, 2014

Kindergarden Redux

Yesterday, Colin started his first day of kindergarden—for the second year. This was an easy decision for us because in Mississippi it's the law. Given his January birthday he is only eligible to for public kindergarden this academic year. Meanwhile, back in Alberta, most of his cohort will be headed to the first grade in a couple of weeks. 

But it was also an easy decision because Colin so clearly needs the second year in kindergarden. So yesterday off he went, with backpack, lunch bag, and nap mat (made from fabric he picked out himself) for his first day of day-long kindergarden. Unlike last year, when he was on the verge of tears as we dropped him off, this year he bounded into the classroom, curious about what was in store. 

And, so far, Colin it seems to be working out for him. He declares that he's already made two new" girlfriends." Lucky guy.

Colin (2014), headed to drop off all of his gear at the kindergarten open house last week.

Colin (2013), headed to his first day of kindergarden, the first year. What a difference a year makes!

Master Builders

A couple of months ago I ordered two sets of child-sized tools for the boys. Real tools. That really work. But I had been keeping them in my back pocket, so to speak, until we really needed them. Well, this week we needed them. (Can you tell it's the end of summer here and that we're all a little tired and cranky, and that this mama is grasping at straws to try to keep everyone from fighting all the time?!)

So one very, very hot afternoon I told the boys there was a surprise waiting for them in the garage: two identical sets of tools and tool boxes—and a mountain of boxes. And then I just turned them loose and went back inside with Virginia to enjoy the air-conditioning and a little peace and quiet.

I had been saving the boxes for weeks, too. They were left over from our move. I only wish I had saved more, because, you know, thirty is really not enough for the "Master Builders." That is what they have taken to calling themselves. Here's a picture of them growling and saying, "Master Builders!" Where do they get this from?

Well, for the next several hours, despite the stifling heat in the garages, they worked together, without quarreling and without any involvement from me. All I could hear were the sounds of busy sawing and the occasional, request for a BandAid (yep, those are real saws).

Finally, hours later, they asked me to come out and see their handiwork. It was a little house with a sunroof and a "working" front door. And they had built it together

"Mama, take a picture of us inside!" Colin said. 

Then they hugged. It was priceless.

August 18, 2014

One Last Time: The High-Level Street Car

What I love about it: It's the best $6 outing with kids in town. It never gets old.

And, then, there's the view:

One Last Time: The Lege (Alberta Legislature Fountains)

What I love about it: One a hot (well, relatively speaking) night in summer, it is the only place in Edmonton I want to be. It's shallow enough that I don't have to play lifeguard all the time, since none of my kids swim (I should really work on that). And I find it really inspiring that in the '70s (or whenever it was being build), that Albertans thought to invest some of their surplus oil wealth into something really lovely and civic-minded.

One Last Time: The Muttart Conservatory

What I love about it: When the temperature is minus-thirty, it will always be springtime in the Muttart. Need I say more?

One Last Time: The AGA

What I love about it: The art. The architecture. The children's programing. The restaurant. The gift shop. For a little museum, this place is a big deal.

One Last Time: The Royal Alberta Museum

Although we left Alberta more than six weeks ago, I am just now getting around to editing the photos I took just before I left. There was a flurry of activity those final few weeks, as we attempted to pack and move to a new country—all with three little children underfoot!

But one of the things I made sure to leave time for was visiting some of our favorite things, one last time. So here they are, beginning with the Royal Alberta Museum.

What I love about it: The dioramas. Obviously. I think they've got outta fashion in the museum world, but they shouldn't. They are so beautiful and informative. And my children just love them. The rest of the museum is pretty great, too. Colin is a fan of the dinosaurs and the gemstones. Archer prefers the birds and butterflies. I really dig the First Nations Peoples exhibit and the collection of bird eggs arranged by size. But by far my favorite is a dusty old exhibit featuring a "scene" from inside the study of a 19th century naturalist. It's full of mahogany furniture, dusty books and fire screens, and odds and ends collected from nature. I remember when I first moved to Edmonton, and I was so depressed, I used to come to this museum and look into that old study and imagine I lived there. And I was happy. And I still am, every time I look at it.

Colin hugs his hadrosaur goodbye.

Archer listening to the backyard birdsong. You have to get in real close...

August 11, 2014

Bird School

I went to bed on Sunday night two weeks ago thinking, "Something has got to be done!" By the time I woke up on Monday morning, I had a plan: Bird School. 

With the upheaval of the move, the children had become pretty wild and whiney and unruly. And although I had managed to keep a pretty consistent rhythm to our lives throughout it all, I felt like we just needed a bit more "structure" to our day. So I invented Bird School. It went a little bit like this:

After breakfast, while it was still relatively cool out, we went on a Nature Walk around our neighborhood, collecting little bits of nature and observing the flora and fauna in our new little ecosystem here.

Then we'd go inside for circle time, which I modeled (ok, totally appropriated!) from our years of Parent and Tot classes at the Edmonton Waldorf School. We did four or five little songs or rhymes, mostly with a bird theme: Two Little Black Birds; Up, Up, in the Sky; Five Eggs and Five Eggs, and a few others.

Afterwards, we all sat down at our big dining table, which faces a big window overlooking our ravine (and our popular bird feeder), and we had a "lesson," chalkboard and all. The "daily lesson" was always something very simple: "What makes a bird"? Or "how do birds fly?" Or "What do birds eat?" The kinds of questions my five year old always has. 

Now this is the part I kinda roll my eyes at. A lesson? With a chalkboard?! I know, I know. But Colin insisted. He also insisted on calling me "Teacher." He was really into the whole school idea, so I just kinda went with it. I figure if he's so keen to be a student and sit still for a lesson at a chalkboard, well, I'm going to encourage that, because whatever opinions I might have about kindergardeners needing playtime over instructional time, he's about to have a lot of the latter at at his new school.

Anyway, after our daily lesson, we did a craft. My favorite! Again, it was always something pretty simple: drawing a bird, or drawing a feather, or making a bird mask. But I was really surprised by how fast they caught on to drawing something new and complicated with just a little prompting. Archer, who is just three, drew some pretty awesome peacocks. And Colin, who has always been my reluctant artist, absolutely threw himself into drawing a very colorful, detailed toucan. It turns out that Colin is a little insecure about drawing something unless he "already knows how to do it," so, once I gave him a "lesson" and showed him a few tricks, he and the confidence to experiment. This has been pretty revelatory for me.

Finally, after everyone had drawn something they were satisfied with and taped it to the wall, we sat down and read books or played a game, usually with a bird theme. Are You My Mother, by P.D. Eastman was a big hit with Archer, and the board game Pengulo was was Colin always asked for. And then school was done. And so was the morning. And we were all very happy to go off and do our independent things for the rest of the afternoon. It was awesome. And the best part was, it required almost no preparation on my part. All of the "supplies"—the books and craft supplies—we just things I had around the house. And all of my "lesson plans" were so simple, I just kinda made them up on the fly.

Our week of Bird School was so satisfying for all of us, in fact, that at the end of the week Colin asked, "What school is next?"

So this week, it's Fish School. But more on that later...