May 9, 2020
Virtual Piano Recital

Amelia and Matthew had a virtual piano recital this morning. We got the time wrong somehow and arrived 5 minutes late. Good thing it was virtual is all I can say!


Matthew was uncharacteristically super nervous. He refused to practice first thing in the morning and sped up dramatically the more mistakes he made. Strangely that didn't help but he did manage to pull it together and finished the piece strong. He insisted that I video him playing it "properly" because the recital one had "too many mistakes" because "everyone was looking at me but I couldn't see them". He does seem to get much more nervous in front of a camera than a live audience. He then played a second piece called Dorian Rocker to post because although he only just got it this week it's actually his favourite piece now. He would have switched if he'd had the option but since he only decided that the day before the recital we figured that would be unwise.


Amelia didn't seem nervous at all. It wasn't her best rendition ever but she was very cute. Afterwards she said that what she likes about virtual recitals is not having to leave but just getting to wave and then you are home!


Brendan and I agreed that the best thing about virtual recitals is the mute button. Michael was in the mood to rocket launch himself off the couch during the recital and generally be somewhat disruptive, but for once it mostly didn't matter! It did mean I couldn't help Amelia but on the other hand she thinks that big kids don't get help from mom or dad at recitals so she didn't want help anyway. Also it was nice that my parents were able to attend for part of it!


Elizabeth said she liked that everyone had their own piano so there wasn't so much time in between pieces but not the occasional technical difficulty when the screen would stop displaying the person playing.


Elizabeth felt a little left out - not so left out that she wanted to actually play something live for anyone - but she did make me video her playing her most recent pieces. The one is still a work in progress that she just started playing hands together last week.

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I mentioned yesterday that the kids are trying to learn how to start a fire using only wood, string and rock. The story of the blacksmiths in Japan that start their forges by banging iron inspired Matthew and Elizabeth to look around for their own forge, anvil and steel. They found a flat rock and tried banging on a paperclip. So we had some education about the difference between steel and galvanized steel (and what would happen if they succeeded in lighting the zinc coated paperclip). I reckoned that flattening a paperclip would probably not be dangerous, but we have so far ignored all pleas for some proper steel. They thought it was very interesting that the metal snapped once it got too thin.


There have been some more attempts at using a stick. Matthew claims it got "warmer", but Elizabeth didn't agree. It's unseasonably cold so we decided to allow them to build a fire indoors. It was very exciting to be able to roast our homemade marshmallows over a fire and all declared it a rousing success.


They are still planning to try and light the "campfire" outside though.

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May 8, 2020
Homeschool wk may 4-may 8

This week the big news is that I think I finally managed to get a fixed schedule. Amelia won't be in the same group every week but we care far more about the timeslot! Otherwise classes seem to be going well for both Amelia and Matthew.


I had a very long conversation with Elizabeth's teacher who was very perturbed that I dared ask her how long a particular assignment was expected to take this week. She's very defensive and I have a terrible time getting any information out of her. She called because she felt my question was "attacking" her teaching but given that Elizabeth's school had said the target was 5 hours of schoolwork and Elizabeth took 5 hours to do half of the reading assignment alone I was wondering if the assignment was longer than expected or if there was a problem that needed addressing. I wanted some idea of how long to allocate for the current assignment. Actually, we are a little concerned about Elizabeth's reading comprehension skills - in both English and French. Elizabeth's teacher kept referring to her as a "francophone" and told me that since Elizabeth seems to be average in her schoolwork she wasn't worried. I may have finally convinced her that Elizabeth is in fact anglophone. Not sure if this was actually in Elizabeth's best interests or not. Long (very annoying) story short, the teacher clarified that she just wants the kids to put in the allocated time and then stop. The allocated time is up to each student though. The teacher also told me she'd taken some extra training on Google classrooms and had a new way of receiving assignments. This doesn't completely solve the fundamental problem that she isn't using the available tools to subdivide her assignments and so it's pretty hard to follow, but it IS easier than the previous strategy and Elizabeth thinks she can manage now. Given how touchy she seems about anything that she interprets as criticism I've decided not to push the issue.


In chatting with a few other parents I've discovered that she is definitely assigning far more than 5 hours a week and her approach is very different than how other teachers in the same grade level is approaching virtual learning. Many more group projects (forcing the kids to interact in french) and she seems to be available all the time to respond to chat questions and even individual video instruction. She's using Google classroom to try and replicate walking around the class and seeing over the kids' shoulders, so expects everything possible to be done on the computer.  I asked Elizabeth to make sure to check with her teacher about any questions and the teacher responded immediately every time. I have to grudgingly admit that while she has a terrible "bedside manner", I'm starting to change my mind about whether or not she's objectively a good teacher. She's certainly putting in incredible amounts of time and effort. The consensus seems to be that the students in her class are getting a lot out of what she's teaching. We'll see how the rest of the year goes, but I might be warming up to her.


Matthew had a very productive week. His great desire was to make slime which we finally managed to do. We're running out of glue but the recipe only called for 1 tablespoon. I was not terribly impressed with said recipe - it did make slime but also a lot of extra goop which was more liquid than slime. Very messy! He's working on collections at school for math. His teacher said she counted all her buttons so of course he wanted to count all of ours. We settled for just counting the red ones because I'm pretty sure I have a couple of thousand in my collection. I love buttons and inherited most of my paternal and maternal grandmother's collection. The kids enjoyed looking through for all of the "cool" buttons. Elizabeth thinks I should sort them into sub collections so it would be easier to find one when we actually want a button but I pointed out that I wouldn't be so keen to let them play with them in that case. Matthew did lots of Prodigy math as well. I've discovered how to set up assignments so I've made it quiz him on skip counting by 2, 5 and 10s to support the stuff he's supposed to be learning. He is also enjoying emailing his teacher. He'd probably send several emails a day if he didn't want help with spelling things out.


Mother's day is coming up and a number of assignments this week were related. I was not allowed to inspect these secret activities, although I did help Amelia make a flower during her class time.


The weather was a bit chilly this week but it was sunny and warm enough to go for a bike ride. Amelia and Michael took scooter and plasma car on a trip around the block with Daddy while I took the older two down through Commissioner's Park to inspect the tulips for ourselves and stretch our legs a bit. Matthew wondered about doing an extra long bike ride but we're going to work up to it.


It was also nice enough on Wednesday for Elizabeth to have an outdoor karate class. She's recently made herself a traditional bo and is keen to practice but waving long sticks around is really an outdoor activity. We were wondering how the wifi would reach and whether sound would be an issue. It seemed fine. We missed a few classes this week - mostly karate - due to some time management issues. Elizabeth wants to know why time goes by so quickly when she's doing assignments. She skipped her Friday ballet class because the teacher suddenly decided to move it live for this Friday only which meant it was going ahead at the scheduled time. Unfortunately the scheduled time now conflicts with tournament team. I tried to talk her into doing the ballet but there was no contest.


Lots of art this week: much of which was "secret". Since everyone likes to draw we are going through reams of paper. I've decided some sketchbooks are in order. This at least cuts back on the random pieces of paper floating everywhere throughout the house! Elizabeth had how to draw books in English, and make a box in science which felt like art to her. It was much more popular than her math assignment. To be fair, the math was very much in the realm of busywork since she is familiar with the material already.


Amelia and Michael attended a couple of Grandir ensemble zooms and the library french storytime. They seem engaged and interested, as long as we don't do it somewhere too distracting. Giving them snacks in front of the zoom in the kitchen seems to work so well that I can even help Matthew and Elizabeth with other school related stuff rather than needing to sit with the littles to keep them focused. Amelia wanted to do some cooking, so we made biscuits together.


We finished our family read-aloud book "Green Knowe" by Lucy M Boston and started reading Little Women for when everyone's there and the Wishing Chair for when Elizabeth's doing a class. Elizabeth says she's read the Wishing Chair too many times so she's fine with missing it.


The other big obsession this week was all about fire. Matthew has been collecting sticks for a little while and he and Elizabeth constructed a fireplace in the backyard. Then they decided they wanted to light it. Of course we live in the city so campfires are not allowed, but we decided it was okay for them to try. The rules: they may use rocks, sticks and string. Sticks must not come from living bushes and must be already in our backyard. If the wood shows signs of getting warm from their efforts, they need a bucket of water for dousing. So far they've demanded to watch many, many videos on how to start fires without matches and are slowly refining their technique based on some of the suggestions. Many branches have been stripped of their bark. Blisters have been acquired. They have learned that in Japan blacksmiths used to start their forges by hammering steel on the anvil. They have also learned that paperclips, a hammer and a rock results only in flat paperclips. They have learned about the difference between galvanized steel and regular steel. In short, it's been surprisingly educational. Related: please don't send Matthew steel wool.

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May 3, 2020
Clemow Flix

I saw some twitter pictures of someone who did a movie theatre at home and mentioned it to Elizabeth. She was super keen to try her own version.


Now, one thing you should know is that Amelia and Matthew are not big into movies. They are clearly my children because they do not like suspense. Amelia finds almost everything terrifying (except the Lorax at dance camp which is the best movie ever apparently). She abandoned the secret life of pets midway. She’s never been in a real movie theatre as even theatres at museums were “too scary” and anytime we’ve tried she ends up making a scene.


Matthew HAS been to a real theatre to see the Incredibles. It was his treat. That was also the last time I’ve been to a real theatre. Elizabeth has been to a movie theatre for a birthday party or two. Probably a couple of years ago. Brendan can’t remember the last time he saw a movie in the theatre, but it might have been when Elizabeth was a baby. So we aren’t exactly movie theatre aficionados.


Elizabeth meticulously planned out our theatre experience. There was much agonizing over pricing and how much money to give every one. She made the supper food cheap and the higher sugar candy more expensive. I was in charge of snacks and making it dark. 

Daddy made trailers for some other movies. This completely confused the kids who thought the trailers WERE the movie. “What WAS that?” demanded Elizabeth. “An ad?” We had to pause to get more snacks after some kids ate ALL theirs during the trailers.

Brendan’s contemplating making one of those slideshows that feature trivia and other famous people for next time except the featured people will be members of our family. Gotta amuse ourselves somehow!


The kids opted to see Monsters Inc on the theory that Amelia and Matthew already know how it goes due to having a Monsters Inc book. They were very scared, but agreed it was worth watching in the end. Michael thought it was interesting. They all greatly enjoyed getting to eat food downstairs - something we very rarely allow. 


Elizabeth is already plotting what she’ll do differently next time.

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May 2, 2020

The middles wanted a sleepover in their room last night. Amelia isn't allowed in Matthew's bed because she isn't six yet and we do not allow kids under the age of six to sleep in the top bunk.


Matthew isn't keen on sleeping in Amelia's bed because he's worried that she might pee the bed (not an unreasonable position, tbh).


So we put mattresses on the floor and told them that they needed to actually do some sleeping or they would not get to do it again anytime soon. There was a LOT of giggling and chatting but eventually they did fall asleep without too much fighting for once.

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May 1, 2020
Homeschool wk apr 27-may 1

We had a new schedule this week again as piano shifted back to group lessons. This also meant Elizabeth is back to making supper on Monday evenings, which was great! Less great is the fact that we still don't have a stable schedule from our school teachers. Elizabeth's teacher appears to be showing some signs of hope, but she also scheduled a class this week fifteen minutes before it happened. She sent a message to Elizabeth's school account that we check once or twice a day to invite her to the class, but not to either parent. She didn't fail to send the email telling us we'd missed the class to parents though. We weren't amused.


Amelia's teacher has apparently decided that classes are going to be at 10:30am but rotating on different days throughout the week "for the convenience of parents". I'm unclear on whether the extra afternoon class this week is going to be an ongoing thing or not. I'm not sure why it's so hard to schedule classes and then stick to that schedule but it's definitely something many are struggling with across the board. Actually that's unfair; KV Dance deserves kudos for coming up with a plan to go online, choosing to stick with their existing schedule and staying with it. But the rest are all switching things around like crazy. It's no wonder so many people are opting out. We may yet decide to ditch Amelia's classes as I really think a schedule with this much flux isn't sustainable until June.


We discovered that the bunnies have multiplied over the winter and are far too comfortable in my vegetable garden. Michael tried hard to PAT BUNNY but bunny ran for its life whenever he got too close. We distracted him by building a "bunny nest" in the backyard.


The seedlings have sprouted; now the trick will be to keep them watered until the garden is ready to receive them. Unfortunately my garden boxes are falling to pieces. Matthew enjoyed pulling weeds in the garden as part of his outdoor time. Even though it rained a good deal this week and it was very cold, the kids mostly went outside several times a day. As it got warmer, they even did some of their schoolwork outdoors.


Michael and Amelia enjoyed storytime at the library and zooming with Grandir Ensemble. They suggested a blowing bubble activity that was a great hit later in the week. Amelia at first kept accidentally drinking the soapy water but eventually she figured out how to blow out consistently. She was very proud of this new skill lol.


Amelia worked on the letter Q and the number 7 this week, and did lots of videos about spring. Matthew read to her and Michael. So did Elizabeth. We did quite well speaking only French at home and while there was more screen time that I would have liked the only videos watched were in French.


Amelia made a gluten free salt dough butterfly this week which we will paint next week. Michael made a blob. The other kids thought they ought to have had the option to make their own butterflies but I couldn't bear the thought of more salt dough crafts to figure out how to display or dispose of. They did more episodes of draw every day with JJK (proportions; brainstorming). Our supply of printer ink and paper seems like it will need replenishing more frequently under the circumstances.


For physical education this week Amelia and Matthew did some bike practice and a number of dance/yoga gym videos. Amelia enjoys them. Matthew not so much, but it's apparently better than karate. He really dislikes exercising in front of screens.


Matthew's math focus this week was Canadian coins. He did a lot of math! This week he started emailing his teacher during writing times - he adores picking things out on the computer. A favourite activity is sounding out words in Word and he'll even sometimes choose free computer time over watching Pat Patrouille videos.


Elizabeth and Amelia both had small group classes and classes with their entire class over google hangouts. Elizabeth's music and gym teachers apparently made guest appearances. Her gym teacher is going to lead an optional workout every week on Fridays... during karate. She predictably wants to do karate instead.


This week Elizabeth got up early quite a few mornings as well in order to make herself a cup of tea or eggs and toast for breakfast and revel in the quiet without siblings. She mostly worked on work assigned to her by her teacher. She told me that she's having a hard time figuring out what to do and when - I took a look at the Google classroom and she's right. There are assignments to hand in that actually have nothing to hand in; she needs to watch a video. Then there are assignments that link to google documents that link to other videos and google documents, some of which have the actual assignments to hand in. It's really difficult to follow. Her main assignment we couldn't even find until Thursday and then of course neither of us had permission to open it. So I felt her schoolwork didn't go that well this week, although actually she made a lot of great progress; just didn't manage to finish much of what her teacher had assigned.


On Friday we bought some new music apps "Flashnote derby" and "Rhythm swing". Flashnote derby lets you set a note range to be quizzed on at different speeds. You can select solfege or English notes, or play the note on a piano. There are unicorns and aliens shooting spaceships and it's much more amusing than Mommy doing the quizzing. Rhythm swing is a fantastic app for following rhythms. If you are late (or early) the alligator eats the monkey. My kids have all tended to be a bit lazy in practicing these skills so I'm really excited to have found something that they are enjoying, even if the English spelling of solfege notes makes Elizabeth giggle.

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