May 15, 2020
Homeschool wk may 11-15

Elizabeth had a very busy week assigned to her by her teacher. Several hours of french (they are studying "le récit" and learning how to take notes). 11 pages of decimal math and fractions. Additional math on the computer. Her social studies group project was due. There was a project on the Canadian parliament (spent a couple hours doing research and there's at least a couple of more to go). That's not counting the hour of virtual gym she did with her gym teacher, her English assignment(s), two hours of zoom class with her teacher, and science. Did I miss something? Probably. It was extra hard to tell this week because the assignments were all actually reference material, and for bonus points we got the set of assignments twice.


We haven't actually gotten to decimals yet in Math-u-see, so I skipped ahead to the relevant chapter and we'll go back later. Having extra curriculum that we've familiar with has been very helpful. In class they've only just started on fractions but now are moving into mixed numbers (aka 15/5 = 1 1/2) and decimals. This seems incredibly fast to me. I can't imagine how the other kids are managing - certainly Elizabeth took much longer than a week to get comfortable with basic fractions. We've very glad we've been doing math at home all along. I'm a little annoyed with myself for slacking off with the math at home during the school year but on the other hand she's had more homework the last couple of years and needed downtime!


I think I've mentioned that we are working our way through the Story of the World 1 series again. I've noticed a definite uptick in the younger kids playing "monster" this week - possibly related to the story of the Minotaur. We skipped acro lessons for siblings this week and cut back on art as Elizabeth was so busy, but we did find time for some art class.


All in all Elizabeth spent about 10 hours this week working on projects for her main teacher and then filled the rest of her time complaining that it wasn't fair that her siblings didn't have to work so hard. Hahaha - actually while that was noted - she actually dealt with a pretty overwhelming workload remarkably well. It did not help that most of her work vanished out of Google drive on Wednesday (strangely it was replaced with what appears to be another student's work - certainly she swears up and down that it was NOT hers although it's supposedly her personal area and the edit history only shows Elizabeth working on it). She did not finish but made good progress, but was quite worried. She told me that "pretty much everyone else" was done. I texted around - this is not true. Turns out that next week's assignments are "finish last week's assignments" so it should be a much more relaxed time.


None of Matthew's friends showed up to chat this week and while I tried to arrange some alternate times none of them worked out. In consolation we extended the first recess block into the normal zoom time. He also chatted with Auntie Janice (en français) and Amelia, who isn't interested in chatting with her friends over zoom but thinks it's great fun to zoom inside the same house with her brother. I don't quite get it, but they were speaking in french to each other without needing a reminder to do so every other sentence. We're still attempting to communicate in french during the school day. Some days are more successful than others.


Attempting to make fire continues to be a popular activity. Matthew's teacher told him a story about someone starting a fire with a pair of glasses, so Matthew spent the first part of the week experimenting with various lenses. He does have something that I think would work, but he hasn't found it yet. Shockingly the pretend lens in a McDonald's toy someone gave him was not a success.


We've wanted new patio furniture for a long time - Mom and Dad gave us their set that was on its last legs a decade ago and we intended to use it for a couple of years while we found something we liked better. Trouble was that Brendan and I couldn't agree. We've crammed around the tiny and admittedly rickety table for years. This year I decided enough was enough so even though there's still nothing out there that I adore, anything will be an improvement at this point. The kids are excited to have enough space to all eat at the same table without spilling each other's water, but the best part was the GIANT BOXES in which the chairs arrived. They promptly commandeered as much of the packaging as allowed and built a cardboard castle in the basement. Matthew was extremely happy to be allowed to take apart the pallet upon which the boxes arrived - any excuse to use his tools!


Amelia and Matthew did a rainbow experiment - a repeat of something her teacher demonstrated. We've done this one before but they insisted they wanted to do it again. Also on the science front we're still looking after our seedlings.


This week, Matthew worked hard on the assignments his teacher sent. He was enthusiastic about making a clock and writing emails and not at all interested in learning his words for his dictée. As one might expect.


There was circle time with Grandir Ensemble and the Ottawa library for Amelia and Michael. We did try to do the suggested activities with Amelia but a couple of the pages caused our printer to print reams of paper (well - more than 50 pages anyway) so I'm pretty sure I missed printing some things. She wasn't interested in more writing related tasks though and the curriculum is supposed to be play based so that's what she did!


Amelia and Matthew had their last piano classes of the year. They weren't super excited because we've agreed to a reduced practice schedule until June.


Elizabeth made supper on Monday, then we had formal cooking lessons via the curriculum I picked up a few years ago covering all kinds of different measurements. Amelia felt strongly that it didn't count as cooking class unless you ended up with something to eat at the end, so we applied our skills by making peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.


Also this week: our first meal outdoors of the season. There was no photo because someone had a class or something. Such is the current state of the nation.

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May 12, 2020
Pandemic ER

I've been feeling quite unwell the last few days and after describing my symptoms to my family doctor she decided to send me to the ER. I was a little taken aback because I'd expected to just be prescribed antibiotics but she was concerned about a kidney infection and coupled with (mild) fever and severe back pain. So off I went. I was a little frazzled having just come back from the grocery store so left without following any of our regular "going to emergency room" protocol. I regretted this because I'd only had a small breakfast.


I went to the General because the Civic has a Covid-19 outbreak and they are both pretty close. The first thing I noticed was that the parking was free. The parking lot was busy, but I found a spot without doing too much circling, so not quite as busy as normal. All visitors were being funneled through the main entrance so I walked in the front wearing my cloth mask. There was a screening station where I was asked to use hand sanitizer, then was screened. As is now "normal", lines and circles on the floor indicated where to stand for proper physical distancing. "Do you have an appointment?" they asked. So I guess there are still some appointments taking place physically. After my screen, I was given a surgical mask to wear. I only saw one person without a mask during my entire visit (the person sitting behind the admitting desk). I was directed to the ER, where I was asked to use hand sanitizer and re-screened. The ER has been rearranged for better physical distancing and seemed pretty quiet with about 8-10 people waiting. I was triaged right away by staff wearing surgical mask with a plastic shield over top. Yes, I was super tempted to take many photos but decided that wouldn't be appreciated.


One of the most interesting parts of my visit was that I received my bloodwork results well before anyone came to talk to me about them. My email prompted me to log into the hospital's patient portal where I could see that all the results were in the normal range and even graphically compare them to the previous bloodwork results I'd had last year.


While I was logged in, I noticed I was scheduled for a CT scan. The porter came and picked me up only minutes later. It seems to be protocol that all patients are transported for their tests - they aren't allowed to walk there by themselves. He and two other porters converged on the scan location at the same time. They were irritated because this isn't supposed to happen (trying to keep patients isolated). They said they are being faster than normal because there isn't traffic in the corridors but scheduling hasn't adapted yet. In any case, the person ahead of me had to go to the bathroom so I got wheeled right in.


The doctor later apologized and told me that I'd gotten in and out of the CT scan before she'd even had a chance to tell me it was happening! I didn't tell her that she'd auto notified me.


Overall, I spent about 5.5 hours at Emerg. I would have been more comfortable without the IV (whine whine) and food, but I was less concerned about picking up stray viruses than normal. They kept all the patients pretty isolated from each other and mostly in the same place rather than moving from waiting room to waiting room. I did get put in an examining room at first and then moved to a smaller area but they called in the cleaner to have the room disinfected after I was moved. I imagine the extra cleaning requires more time but I really appreciated it.


After confirming that I had no kidney stones, the ER doc decided to give me antibiotics and send me home.

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May 10, 2020
Mother's Day

A quiet Mother’s Day this year. The kids have been working hard on surprises and I was under strict instructions to STAY IN BED as there were grand plans. Said plans were shared with Daddy who greatly facilitated and encouraged the kids to follow through on their plans when some children woke up too early and were subsequently inclined to fight. Not that I heard that part.

Then a flurry of activity and I was extremely surprised to discover the kids had made about 15 cards and half a dozen gifts to open. The kids were especially excited about a new iPad as our oldest one has an annoying tendency to suddenly shutoff during video conference classes.


They also brought me toast and tea and very very dippy eggs in bed. It was luckily still edible. Michael thought he might like to have some too and started dipping his fingers into the eggs. So the kids went down for their breakfast and I had mine in solitude.


Later in the day I spent some time repotting my seedlings and hanging out outdoors enjoying the sunshine. We put up our swing and the kids were thrilled to be able to fight over who got a turn again.


After the younger three were all in bed, Elizabeth and I went over by bike to visit Grandma for a few minutes with a card and some flowers from our garden.

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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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