Karate has been doing this thing where they give timbits to all the kids who are physically there while Matthew and the other virtual kids get to watch.
Matthew wondered if perhaps we could make our own timbits at home, and I not only agreed that we could but that he and I could make them together - without any other sibling assistance.
The girls were off with Daddy to locate larger ski boots, so he figured it would be a pretty good time. Michael seemed amenable to mostly amusing himself so we declared it a timbit day. We'd mixed together most of the ingredients the night before and very shortly we were frying small batches of chocolate and vanilla gluten free donut holes. Matthew wanted more chocolate than vanilla, so we made a half recipe of the vanilla.
The vanilla ones got covered in cinnamon sugar, while some of the chocolate ones were dipped in chocolate, dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles, or covered in icing sugar. I emailed Erika to ask whether she and Maria might be interested in sampling these delicacies from "MatTims Restaurant" (as Elizabeth immediately dubbed it) and the girls showed up twenty minutes later to help us try them out.
Matthew is already thinking he'd like to try making jelly donuts next time.
The children started back to school on September 8th. The virtual day consists of periods of synchronous learning, asynchronous learning and breaks. Elizabeth declared that we needed to make lunches "so we don't get out of practice". I've been putting snacks into lunchboxes and leaving them on the table for the kids to fetch when they are hungry or have a break, but we've been making hot lunches. Elizabeth agreed that since we are actually at home it didn't make too much sense to eat cooler lunch in a thermos that would then need washing.
We also left the house to "go to school" in the morning, complete with fake running for the bus "to keep in practice" (Michael was very confused). We've been leaving the house again after school "to come home", mostly via the local playground. Actually we haven't been super strict about the coming home - day 1 Matthew and Elizabeth decided to do each other's hair and have a spa day instead, and Thursday Matthew had horseback riding instead but Amelia and Matthew are enjoying our daily trip to the park. Elizabeth has been skyping with Erika in the mornings before school as well so this has added some artificial urgency to the getting out the door. Some of the kids have insisted on wearing backpacks to go to and from school and Amelia suggested we try having a special school door so we'll see how long THAT lasts.
Elizabeth's first day consisted only of a half hour one on one video conference with her teacher, so she spent most of the day helping us with Michael, chilling out and finishing up some of her summer tasks. We found out that she is in a class of 28 students, 10 of which are from Francojeunesse. She has two teachers, which she thinks are teaching from home. Her main teacher (Mme Danielle) was a grade 6 teacher at Francojeunesse so she knows her well. Elizabeth was pleased to discover a couple of her good friends in her class. So far I helped her with suggestions for a mathematical scavenger hunt ("find a household object representing a decimal number"). I also know she did an assignment to find errors in a paragraph and that the class is doing presentations to introduce themselves. Otherwise Elizabeth is pretty self sufficient and I'm not entirely sure what they are up to. She claims no homework so far and has been done by 2:30 pm every day.
Matthew's class has 17 students and two teachers. They started out with two google classrooms and a plethora of google meet links but luckily they seem to be refining things as they go along. By the end of the week we were down to a single classroom and a stable place to find the link. He recognized at least a couple of the other students. He claims his teachers are teaching from home. Matthew's math teacher was absent the second day as she apparently needed to get a covid test (it was negative). I'm a little unclear why that would be necessary if she's at home though. Matthew has so far done math, french and art every day. He's needed the most help so far, he's okay once he knows what to do but he has a great deal of trouble figuring out which documents to open or print and his reading level really isn't quite good enough to parse through the documents to pick out what is instruction vs what is task. We've also quickly realized that he'd benefit from a faster computer as well as a solution to allow him to view two screens at the same time so that he can follow what his teacher is showing while also doing it. On the flip side, once he knows what to do he's able to do it very quickly. He's definitely finding math far too easy. All week he was finishing his assignments quickly and then had 30-45 minutes to kill. When he finished before asynchronous time even started he was able to ask his teacher for some extra work, but otherwise he's either been playing minecraft or doing the extra assignments I am giving him. We are expecting that the vast swaths of downtime are due to the teachers evaluating the class and not wanting to start off the year in a discouraging fashion. He seems to be done by 2:30 as well.
Amelia's class has 30 students, a teacher and an ECE. Her friend Poppy is in her class, although perhaps their relationship could be more accurately described as "frenemies" than friends. The teacher spent the first week getting to know the students and asking questions like "Which school are you from?" Amelia explained carefully that she isn't going to school, she's at home and on "the line". The kindergarten class has a short class with songs and attendance first thing in the morning, then the teachers actually teach the entire rest of the day aside from breaks in small groups.
So a typical day looks like class from 8:30am to 9:00am with camera on but microphone off. Then we turn off our camera until our 15 minute "rendez vous" somewhere between 9:00 am and 10:30. Amelia then has a small project to do while listening to her classmates have their rendez vous with the teachers. Then she has a break and we've been encouraging her to go outside. During breaks we turn off the volume of the class but are otherwise staying in the Google Meet all day. At 11:10am we're back for a short class until about 11:30(ish). There's another break until 12:40pm when she has a class until 1pm. Then she has another 15 minute rendez vous sometime before 2pm and then we are done. Except on Fridays when there's apparently a short class to "finish off the week". It makes the day kind of choppy and she does need help from time to time but she's starting to get the hang of turning on and off microphones and cameras herself. I am able to do some work with her chatting in the background so for the moment we think that online kindergarten will be workable.
I did not get off on the right foot with her teacher. Her connection is extremely blocky and the audio is sometimes poor. There was also no published schedule for the rendez vous at first - we just had to listen for our name, which was tricky to do while also theoretically working. Couple these with a tendency for people to drop the first syllable of names beginning with vowels and another kid in the class called "Emelia" and you'll understand why I told the teacher that we were struggling to figure out whether she was calling on Amelia or Emelia. Teacher very condescendingly told me there was no problem because Amelia starts with an A that makes an Ah sound and Emelia starts with an E which makes an Eh sound. Let's just say I was very irritated, especially when I suggested that she distinguish by adding her last initial and the teacher agreed... but then didn't actually do so orally. Then on Friday I happened to be at the school to pick up our school supply kits and happened to run into Amelia's teacher in person. We had a lovely 20 minute chat and it was enough to completely change my initial negative impression.
I brought Elizabeth along with me because we were still missing some things the school hadn't managed to return in June - shoes and a whiteboard from Elizabeth's locker, Matthew's meds and Elizabeth's recorders. There had been a lot of back and forth while I attempted to get a time to come and get them but eventually the principal conceded that Elizabeth might come and peruse the lost and found since Elizabeth's a student and not subject to the no parents in the building rule currently in effect. In fact Mme L personally escorted Elizabeth around the extensive collection three times and they managed to return (almost) everything.
I was interested to observe in person recess while I was there. Very few kids wearing masks and mostly around necks - likely because they were outdoors and it is not mandatory for that age group. Many kids literally hugging each other in huddles of five or six, others running all over the yard. In short there was absolutely no indication of any distancing at all. I'm told that only three classes are in the yard at a time in order to allow for distancing, but in the fifteen minutes I stood there I did not observe any adult reminding children to stay apart, nor did recess look particularly different than usual (possibly a bit more handsy actually). I'm sure there was adult supervision but I didn't see any adults at all. There was also no attempt to keep kids within their classroom cohort. The school had told us that play structures were closed by ministry regulation, but the students were playing on them.
I tend to agree with the point of view that one cannot expect kids at school to distance. I also don't agree with play structures being closed at school when they are open everywhere else, but it struck me that the various regulations at school at the moment are rather more on the security theatre side than actual health precaution. If they are obviously not following what they say they are doing outside when parents can easily see what's going on, how seriously are they taking their own rules when away from view? Anyway, it rather reinforced our decision not to return.
Michael has been sleeping in the same room as Amelia and Matthew since we got back from the cottage, so we've taken apart the crib and reassembled it as a toddler bed for the first time since Elizabeth was four! It's quite weird having so much space in our bedroom.
Elizabeth's only comment was that everyone in the house now has a real bed except for her.
When school shut down in March, one of the things that stopped was violin lessons for Matthew as he had no violin.
Now violin lessons are starting up again. Since there are no extracurriculars allowed at school, their beloved teacher is offering lessons by Skype or at her in-home studio. Since Matthew needed to be fitted for a violin anyway, we decided to go try out lessons. Everything is well set up with hand washing and mask wearing required and much ventilation. Matthew did his lesson out in the waiting area because I needed to watch and take notes in order to hopefully be a good support person when we need to do lessons over Skype. Elizabeth did hers in the studio. Since Elizabeth is more advanced than Matthew her teacher was further away sitting behind plexiglass.
The kids were very happy to get to do an in-person lesson. Matthew is very happy to have his own violin and loves to practice for anyone who cares to watch. At his level there is a lot of focus on proper technique - most of which I'm pretty sure I never learned in my own lessons(!)
Elizabeth loves lessons but historically hasn't much liked to practice because she thinks she sounds "like a dying cow". Matthew and Elizabeth agreed in the car that she might now sound like a "squawking duck" more than a cow, but I was struck by how much she has improved over the last year.
We've been teasing Erika that she needed a cheering squad to show up at her first day of high school.
I was very very tempted, but settled for tagging along for pictures and mortifying both Elizabeth and Erika by asking some random kid and dad if they wouldn't mind moving off the front steps so we could take pictures. Dunno why that was embarrassing but apparently it was.
One of our summer bucket list items was to "make marshmallows with cousins" because apparently they have never done this before.
We made vanilla with sprinkles on top, red food colouring and vanilla with sprinkles mixed in, lemon and a chocolate/vanilla mix. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of getting the bottom smooth (and not sticky). The batch Erika and Elizabeth made unfortunately got a bit over mixed so the texture wasn't quite as good but I think all in all they were considered quite popular.
Over the summer, the kids (especially Elizabeth and Erika) went biking with Grandma from time to time. Early on, they decided that one of their summer bucket list items was to do a long bike ride to Aylmer Island at the end of the summer.
Last week we realized that we were running out of time before school started. The weather was not great all week but Sunday seemed acceptable and before we knew it the entire bubble was ready for our grand expedition! Grandma does more biking than the rest of us and she reckoned it would take about an hour to bike out, half an hour to recover and an hour to bike back. Let's just say that Grandma is a wee bit faster on her bike than the rest of us, so it actually took us about five and a half hours with lots of stops to admire the scenery, a stop for a snack and washroom break at Aylmer beach and a very popular stop at the Cassis Gelato et Sorbet Maison for the most enormous "small" scoops I've ever seen. Our group tried marshmallow, chocolate, lemon and blueberry. Apparently they were all very nice.
Yukiko had a meeting in the afternoon, so she only rode with us to Remic Rapids, but the rest of us managed the entire 30km round trip.
I should add that I was by far the slowest on the trip out, hauling 63 lbs of children + water and snacks and other things in the Chariot behind me. Luckily Brendan agreed to pull the chariot and also some of the children were tired on the way home so I actually found the way back much nicer than the way out. The scenery was beautiful and we enjoyed ourselves very much.