If Evolution Really Worked I’d Have Way More Than Two Hands

Man, I thought I’d be able to keep this thing up at least twice a week but life has taken over. Today is the first time I get to sit at my computer to write anything since my last blog post!

Lots of things going on in the Panda cage right now: Mardi Gras is Tuesday, the kids haven’t been to any parades yet but my house looks like we’ve thrown a carnival. This past weekend I spent in revelry with adult friends because well, I earned it. How’s that saying go, “Working mother is a redundant phrase”? Yeah, that’s me. So I had a blast, made gumbo for an army of people and went to a parade where I had tons of fun catching beads and throws for my friend’s daughter, Cadence. The panda cubs were with a sitter for the weekend.

At Wal-Mart, shopping for last minute lawn chairs. Yes, I dress in theme for most holidays. Don't mind the smeared makeup, I fixed it shortly after the picture was taken!

For Valentine’s day Maverick and I had more cupcake adventures, which were awesome. We made “sweetheart cupcakes”. Basically, devil’s food and strawberry cake batter baked in cupcakes. Hollow out the middle, and fill with a blended mixture of cherry preserves, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Make a ganache, dip the cupcakes in the ganache frosting, and then decorate. They were DELICIOUS. We brought some to my grandfather and other family members on Valentine’s day and then last night I delivered the leftovers to some friends of mine, to prevent me from eating all of them.

Sweetheart cupcakes!

With the hollowed out middles of the cupcakes (as you know I’m frugal and don’t like to waste ANYTHING) I blended more cream cheese and then dipped in melted semisweet chocolate. VOILA: Cake truffles!

Cake truffles with sugar crystals!

Also last week we turned my rock garden into a raised flower bed for annuals. We have had lots of rain and back and forth between cold and warm weather so I haven’t sowed any seeds yet, but mostly will be planting wildflowers there. Maverick and I can just throw the seeds and wait for the pretty to happen!

This will be full of colorful flowers by summer time

While digging out the earth for the raised flower bed, Maverick made some new friends. Insects. Worms. Earwigs. All sorts of gross things. It’s always amazing to me how little boys will touch, hold, play with DAMN NEAR ANYTHING and not be bothered by it. We now have a pot of soil and worms outside, and he checks their progress daily. By checking their progress, I mean he pulls them out of the soil and flips them around in his hand a bit then puts them back into the dirt. I’m getting the creeps just thinking about it.

The tiniest worm on earth. His name is "Sam"

On the gardening subject, all of the tomato plants have sprouted true leaves, so that meant last night I had to ELIMINATE THE WEAKER ONES (MWAHAHAHAHA) ok that’s enough of the mad scientist gardner. So now, we have 15 tomato plants in our coldframe.

Here they are! In all their glory. Ethan took out the markers so I have no idea which pods contain what varieties but hey, all tomatoes are delicious so I'll be happy if even ONE of these makes it to bearing fruit. The two pots on the sides are sunflowers, the one in front of the tomatoes is a cluster of basil seedlings that is struggling to survive, and the aluminum pot has some violas. I'm hoping to make a window box with those, it gets too hot here for them to survive the summer outdoors. They are only a couple weeks old at this point. Gardening takes SO MUCH patience.

My little artists decided to draw on the sofa today, and I read on google that HAND SANITIZER and PAPERTOWELS would remove ball point ink. And it worked! So for all you moms out there with kids that are as creative as mine, commit that tip to memory. The last time this happened I paid to have the sofa cleaned… this time I just used a lot of elbow grease and remedied the problem myself.

I also would like to mention here that I am participating in a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Acadiana… and if you read this blog I’d like you to share it on your blog, or maybe donate. I’m 100 dollars away from my goal. Please, follow this link and read the story associated. Help in any way that you can. Rock for Hope

I hope that everyone has a blessed week, and I promise that once Mardi Gras settles down I’ll be posting more, it’ll be my Lenten Devotion this year: BLOG MORE OFTEN!

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“Bob Books”, Maverick’s “Lesson Tree”, and Ethan Scaring People

About three months ago I went through this phase of putting decals on my walls. You know what I’m talking about: stencil outlined dark black images, quotes, etc. My significant other was not a huge fan of the tree I put on our living room wall (this is an understatement) even though I thought it was elegant. I’ve converted this tree into Maverick’s “Lesson Tree”. Every time he masters something we put a symbol for it on the tree. Originally it was going to be a place to display his various worksheets and craft projects but that got out of hand entirely because I keep him so busy. Now, it’s a visual progress report that he can see and add to himself every week.

Today’s major accomplishment was recognizing all three sight words and reading most of a first grade level book on his own. This is the second book in the Bob Books series, and it took him about a week to master it. We actually had two big steps in one day, he’s able to recite “itsy bitsy spider” on his own now, without any help. He’s very proud of this and entertains his brother a lot with the rhyme. So, today, the sight words “he”, “ate”, and “little” got added to the tree along with an “itsy bitsy spider”. The worksheet for the spider also was a test of his skill with scissors, as he had to cut out the legs following a zig-zag line. He did great. Already on the tree we have the sight words “are”, “good”, and “now”, along with some plums, to celebrate his mastery of the first book in the series “Plums are Good”.

Maverick's Lesson Tree

Tomorrow we are starting on the third book in the sight words series, and this weeks letters and phonics are “H”, “short O”, and “S”. Concepts for this week are “rhyming” and “opposites”. Theme this week is “Mardi Gras”, I have two craft projects lined up. Tomorrow we will make a “Mardi Gras Float” using a shoe box, and Friday we will make a “Mardi Gras Mask”.

Ethan’s major accomplishments so far this week are way more walking going on in this house, and extreme levels of independence displayed. Poor kid has an ear infection and upper respiratory infection right now (because Louisiana’s climate is RIDICULOUS and the mold levels are EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH) but he is still ripping and roaring (quite literally). He has recently learned how to say “RAWWWWWWR” and uses it pretty frequently to “scare” people. He will launch at you with incredible strength for a fourteen month old and shriek “RAWR” then pretend to eat you. I’m pretty positive this is behavior learned from Maverick’s obsession with zombies, since I caught Maverick yesterday trying to make Ethan say “BRAAAAAAAAAINS”. Ethan also has developed a general disregard for all things potentially dangerous. Namely, the staircase. Sometime this weekend I am going to install a hardware mounted safety gate at the top and bottom of the stairs, because both he and Maverick know how to take down the tension mounted ones: just throw yourself at it. Lately my security for the stairs has been a giant recliner pressed up against the bottom so they cannot climb up unattended, and just keeping the door shut when I’m upstairs in their room with them. It works, but I’d like to have a gate installed. Ethan is also talking a lot more, and Maverick seems way better at understanding him than we are. He will say “Yes Ethan, that’s right!” when Ethan even sounds remotely like he’s pronouncing something correctly. All I can understand from Ethan is whenever he screams “DADA” which is synonymous with “mommy”, basically all adults are called “DADA”. He says “bubba” for Maverick, “bobba” for bottle or sippy cup, “eat” when he’s hungry, and “bye bye” pretty much any time you wave at him. He can say “dog” if we see one, “duck” if we see one, and “book” if we’re reading. Mostly it’s a lot of babbling, though. If I’m watching the news, Ethan will walk up to the television and yell vehemently at the “talking heads”. He even slaps his hands in defiance of them talking over him. He’s far more vocal than Maverick was at this age but way behind Maverick in physical development. He’s not behind according to his pediatrician, but Maverick was a mostly silent walking, climbing, crawling, running toddler.

 

It’s funny, last night I was talking to Michael about Maverick, thinking how incredible it was that at his third birthday we were begging Maverick to speak, and now we can’t get him to shut up and he’s saying words like “incredible” and “awesome”. He still gets subject-verb agreement messed up but pretty much anyone can understand him. His godmother says Maverick was just waiting until he was ready, and I can agree with that. The language explosion I’ve seen from him in the past two weeks is literally shocking. I’m not sure if it has much to do with being taught one-on-one now, or if he’s finally figured it out. Either way, he’s amazing.

Kindergarten Readiness, Active Babies

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” ~Robert Maynard Hutchins

Yesterday I printed a checklist from Education.com to test Maverick’s kindergarten readiness, and I feel like he is far ahead considering he doesn’t begin public school until eight months from now. There are very few things on the list he has not mastered.

With his understanding of expressive and receptive language, the only roadblock we are facing is his ability to recite rhyming poems or familiar stories. I’m not sure if this is an inability or a lack of interest, but for the month of February one of our benchmarks will be mastering “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. All of these he can start off accurately but after the first line I’m met with an inquisitive look and “what comes next?”.
Other things the list says that Maverick should be able to do (this list is about six printed pages long) are “Demonstrates the ability to correctly put in order or sequence up to three story pictures”, “demonstrates an understanding of adding to and taking away using objects up to five”, “understands concepts of more and less up to five objects”, and “knows parents first and last name”. I’m not confident in his ability with these things yet, so I am adding them to regular lessons for the month of February.

Maverick knows all of the names of his family members, but due to the mixed nature of his households (his father and I are divorced, Maverick has a stepfather) sometimes he gets last names confused. He knows with certainty that his brother’s name is “Ethan Curry” and that his father’s name is “Josh Nieman” but he isn’t sure about my last name, he often switches between “Prejean” and “Nieman” mostly because he never hears me called by first and last name. He’s not entirely incorrect, either, because my maiden name IS “Prejean” and I don’t use “Nieman” at all anymore, but many places in print that is what my last name appears. So, some clarification of that is necessary.
Today’s lessons include:

Boy, n.:  a noise with dirt on it.  ~Not Your Average Dictionary

From top to bottom this ick is chocolate pudding, chalk, calamine powder, and hand soap. Unfortunately he used them in the wrong order.

Both of the children are very noisy, messy, and curious. If Ethan is not trying to eat ash out of the fireplace, he’s screaming at his brother or daredevil riding his “Lightning Mcqueen” as a skateboard (A FOOT OFF THE GROUND!). Maverick is always sneaking a “snack” or drawing on himself or screaming at the baby. It’s a miracle I haven’t had a stroke yet.

Ethan’s education is mostly centered on play right now, because he’s only 14 months old. I recently picked up a copy of “Active Baby, Healthy Brain” and finished reading through all of the exercises for Ethan’s age group last night. This year for babies is considered a “movement year”, not a “language year”, so language is expected to take a back burner to coordination, balance, strength, and mobility. (Though lately Ethan INSISTS on being heard, we’re a loud family so most of Ethan’s verbiage consists of yelling his opinions which are either “YES”, “NO”, or “EAT!”) Late last week Ethan took his first REAL, unassisted steps. He still doesn’t walk with surety but he will step five or six steps without holding on to anything. Funnily enough, this morning he walked back and forth from one end of the bathtub to the other quite a few times without holding on, in water about ankle deep. This was the most certain I’ve ever seen him of his footing. This week I am going to provide him with obstacles. We have these really high pub chairs for our dining table (family of four in a townhome, we can’t really fit a “real” table) which are constructed of heavy cherry wood legs and leather full back seats. I am going to start flipping one on it’s side and letting Ethan crawl over and through the legs. This week I might also make a trip to the local educational supply store and pick up some of those foam obstacle course makings, to give Ethan a safer alternative to crawling onto the cold hearth for a snack.

Progress Report: Maverick

I set benchmarks for myself in teaching my children. This is something not every parent has the diligence to do but I’ve always been a bit obsessive compulsive so researching, keeping lists, being organized lends itself well to the approach I take in preparing Maverick for school.

In early January, whenever I quit my job, I set out to do the following things before the beginning of February for Maverick:

  • Teach him what a library is, how we use it, and responsibility for library books
  • Teach him how to create secondary colors
  • Introduce him to the scientific method
  • Expose him to public ways of education like museums
  • Help him to find a hobby outside of coloring

At each benchmark we’ve come pretty far. Not all are completed, but most are thoroughly explored.

Each Tuesday since I’ve become the panda mother both children and I go to the public library about two miles from our house. There, we select eight books for the week and three DVD’s. Maverick is allowed to pick one documentary, one entertainment movie (pixar movies and the like) and one season of an educational television program. When his DVDs are finished playing, he takes them out of the XBOX we use as a DVD player and puts them carefully into their case. He is sure to place them where his baby brother cannot reach and is extra careful to not scratch them. After the first week whenever we brought back the books and movies Maverick grasped the concept of “borrowing” and that the books and movies “belong” to the library, we don’t give any money for them so the people at the library expect them back in the same condition they lent them in. He keeps the books religiously stacked on a desk in his room, and every “Library Day” he puts all of his borrowed items in a bag to ensure their safe transport back to the library. He is absolutely delighted when he turns them in and cannot wait to pick out more books. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick working on a craft project he discovered in a library book about ants.

Secondary colors have proven to be a little harder than I thought. At the library, we borrowed “Babar’s Book of Colors” to help us with this lesson. As of now, Maverick can recall that “red + yellow = orange” (Thanks to Ketchup and Mustard, giving him a visual representation of things he commonly eats together like on hamburgers and such helps him to recall what primary colors are used to make orange). He can also recall that “red + blue = purple”. The mnemonic device we use is bruising, the veins are red and blue so the bruises look purple. He’s a five year old boy, constantly covered in bruises, so it makes this easy to remember. He can’t seem to remember that “blue + yellow = green” so I might resort to flash cards for this. I hate the repetition that flash cards create and how impractical they are as a learning device. He won’t have a practical example to use, and it might limit his ability to express himself. Hopefully soon we can find something that makes sense in his head so that he can recall it. Benchmark: Almost complete.

Maverick working on drawing a color wheel

The “ants” book which was one of the first we borrowed at the library assisted greatly in introducing Maverick to the scientific method. In addition to the ant craft project, the wealth of information provided created an opportunity for hypothesis, experiment, observation, and conclusion. I realize this is a very simplified version of the scientific method but I think it is appropriate for a five year old to know how to discover things on his own. It creates an environment in which he can imagine what will happen, create a scenario where he can test if his theory is right, and ultimately answer his own questions. His first “experiment” began as “Mom, if ants are from different colonies are they enemies?” I knew the answer to this, but he didn’t. So I asked him how we could find out… Maverick’s answer “Let’s get a jar and go find some different ant colonies. We can put them all in the jar and see what’s gonna happen. If they fight then yes they are enemies but if not then no they are friends.” How could I argue with that? So, we set out to the park and collected some ants. We put them in a jar and they all went to separate corners. Here, I should have explained Maverick’s “experimental bias” to him but I think he should hit about 7 before we introduce those sorts of things. Because the ants were not fighting, Maverick  threw in a piece of pear, knowing the ants would want to eat it. The pear brought them closer together and the ants fought. Maverick concluded that ants from separate colonies are enemies. (Which, scientifically, is true: Ever taken half of one ant pile on a shovel and switched it with the top half of another ant pile? It’s like ant lava volcanoes, a guaranteed way to exterminate ants. I didn’t want to involve the risk of tons of ant bites so I didn’t propose this to Maverick and just let his experiment unfold itself, but bias or not he  did get the correct scientific answer.) Since then everything Maverick does is approached with a “Wait, let me think about it” followed by a “How bout this?” and some form of experimenting. Constant questioning. In my opinion an inquisitive child is a knowledgeable child. If they sincerely want to learn something they will not forget it. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick watching his ants

This month Maverick and I have gone to two museums, both of which he loved. We went to the dinosaur exhibit at the local science museum and also to the local children’s museum. He loved both, kept the tickets from both visits, and continually talks about them. At the dinosaur exhibit he asked questions, watched all of the videos, and left knowing considerably more than he got there knowing about various prehistoric animals. He was especially impressed that “crawfishes lives with dinosaurs? really?” At the children’s museum we stayed for approximately an hour, and Maverick played with every station in existence. I know that previously he has been to zoos and aquariums but a museum is something different altogether, in my opinion. There is a greater respect necessary for the things observed and much more information to be discovered. The children’s museum was mostly an exercise in play and he didn’t learn anything he didn’t already know, but I think he’s ready for me to take him to larger museums. Perhaps later in the spring  we will take a trip to New Orleans or Baton Rouge, where there are more museums. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick watching an animated dinosaur skeleton

The hobby benchmark is possibly the most interesting. What SHOULD HAVE been a hobby playing drums or ukelele transformed into gardening, because I had Maverick help me plant a small herb garden. I figured it would be a good time to teach him about photosynthesis and how to care for plants, but had NO IDEA he would take such an interest in it. Our Chia herb garden has been expanded to include a miniature greenhouse where we are germinating seedlings of eggplant, lavender, three types of tomatoes, shasta daisies, african daisies, violas, beans, carrots, lettuce, chives, basil, cilantro, dill, bell peppers, onions, and parsley. Our parsley has taken off but we had to restart the basil seedlings due to a “misunderstanding” of how photosynthesis works… Maverick cut the first set of leaves off the basil plants because we read that “regular cutting of the leave will ensure plant growth”. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick's greenhouse of seedlings