What we’ve been doing with our kids

We have two children:  DC1, age 13 and DC2, age 7.

DC1 is in high school and has plenty of homework to keep hir busy all day.  Zie has also been binging on mostly terrible WWII movies for extra credit for history, which zie needs thanks to a low test grade earlier this quarter.  As is typical of teenagers, DC1 seems to be mostly fine entertaining hirself.

DC2, on the other hand, is an extrovert who thrives on attention and has a ton of energy.  If DC2 spends more than a couple of hours watching shows, zie gets super grumpy.  There’s also a limit to video games and screentime overall before grumpiness sets in, but the line isn’t as clear cut.  Usually we send DC2 to daycamp or after school care where zie can work out a lot of that extra energy.  We cannot do that during a quarantine.

So here’s what we’ve been doing instead.

We’ve been letting DC2 sleep in and haven’t been policing sleeping time.  Hir no more screens time is 7pm and hir lights out (except hir personal lamp which zie uses as a nightlight) is 8pm.  Zie will stay up reading comic books or Harry Potter or whatever zie is into well past 8pm if we don’t police this even though zie isn’t supposed to.  We have not been policing it, which means zie stays quiet in hir room after 8pm not sleeping and then sleeps in until 10 or 11am.  This is fantastic given that we don’t have to get hir up to catch the bus at 6:50am.  (This is pretty terrible when school is in session and zie has to get up.)

Add to that, we are on a system of weekend chores.  So, that means that instead of half an hour of violin practice, DC1 has to do a full hour.  DC2 has a full load of workbooks instead of just Singapore math.  We also started Hard Math for Elementary Students during Spring Break because the other stuff was getting finished too quickly and DC2 was bouncing off the walls, so we needed a challenge.

DC2’s current line of workbooks (amazon links are affiliate links) is:

Brainquest Grade 3 (I would recommend this series to anybody, gifted or not– it’s just a really thick really good series of workbooks for each grade with additional summer books as well– try barnesandnoble if amazon is out of the grade you want)
Primary Mathematics 4A (this is Singapore math, not an affiliate link)
FlashKids Writing Skills 3 (this is because zie was having trouble “letting go” with English assignments back in like October, so we added a series of English workbooks, I can’t find a link to grade 3, but here’s grade 2)
Easy Spanish Step-By-Step (I ordered this off Amazon last week because I thought we could use it for the summer if hir school didn’t shut down)
Hard Math for Elementary School (for this you need 3 books:  workbook, textbook, solutions manual)
Coloring by note music coloring book (from piano teacher)
We used to have a handwriting practice book instead of Spanish, but zie finished it and has pretty decent handwriting, so we didn’t see the need to replace it with another.

On Sunday evening, we talked with both DC1 and DC2 about how school was closed for at least a week but mommy and daddy still need to work, so DC2 needs to ask DC1 for help first before Mommy and Daddy.  They were both understanding.  #blessed

DC1’s schedule:
Get up around 8am, goof off for a bit.
Take shower, brush teeth. Eat Breakfast.
Work on homework.
Sometime before lunch: Do piano practicing.
Sometime around 11 or 12: Eat lunch. Put away dishes from dishwasher if asked to.
Work on homework, help DC2.
Squabble with DC2 after DC2 has finished chores and screentime.
Get kicked out of house for bike ride with DC2.
Terrible WWII movie or more homework.
Dinner.
Violin.
Put away dishes or laundry.
Whatever DC1 does in the evenings.

DC2’s schedule:
Get up around 11am.
Eat Breakfast. Brush Teeth.
Zoom through homework books. Ask DC1 for help except sometimes ask mommy or daddy.
Gripe about lunch options. Eat lunch. Put away silverware from dishwasher if DC1 is putting away dishes.
Piano practicing.
Screen time! Usually an hour of videos and an hour of slime rancher or stardew valley. Sometimes minecraft if DC1 isn’t using the computer.
Squabble with DC1.
Get kicked out of house for bikeride with DC1.
Watch Magic School Bus in Spanish because we only have that and Harry Potter in Spanish or Try not to watch terrible WWII movie unless it’s something like Indiana Jones or Captain America.
Complain about being bored. Refuse to clean room.
xtramath (almost done with division) or Encore reading from school
Write Bad Kitty Fan Fiction or do drawing tutorials on YouTube or play with calligraphy set from Christmas.
Hang out with Mommy and/or Daddy. Do crafts with Daddy. Do chores or read or watch twoset/tryguys videos on the couch with Mommy.
Dinner.
Put away silverware or laundry.
More hanging out with parents.
7pm: Showertime!
8pm: Bedtime!

In a couple days we will ask DC2’s best friend’s parents if zie can Facetime with DC2.  We all facetimed with my sister on my sister’s birthday.  Poor Auntie being socially distanced on her birthday.

Here’s somethingremarkable asking for tips on how to keep a 7 year old occupied.

Here’s an old post of ours on how to keep a gifted kid challenged.  Here’s another set of old posts on (mostly educational) apps that our kids have enjoyed at various ages (strong recommendation for all the dragonbox games).

If you have kids, what are you doing to keep them occupied while you work from home?  Have you seen any good posts with suggestions or have other links?  (I’ve been digging the Gen X latchkey generation stuff on twitter because yeah, that was me.  Don’t bother mommy when she’s working unless you are bleeding.)  Any recommendations for videos in Spanish besides Pocoyo?  (Any anime suitable for a 7 year old?  Spanish dubbed/subbed anime used to be easily available on youtube, but they seem to have cracked down.)

The Summer of Fun for DC1

At 13, DC1 isn’t old enough to volunteer yet, much less work.  Next year (hir Sophomore year) is Pre-Calculus so there’s not any obvious math class to take over the summer, and the high school offers fun classes like Psychology and Statistics and advanced programming and so on, so there’s not really a pressing need to take those either.  Driver’s ed is out.

Last summer and the summer before, zie went to all the engineering and programming camps, and even a philosophy camp.  Zie could go again, but… it doesn’t seem like there’s much value added.  We talked about a couple of away-math camps but one of them would take hir away for over a month and another is run by my least favorite math teacher from high school (it is a VERY small world), the one who on the first day of calc told us to open our books to the first page, read the chapter, and do some problems at the end of the chapter and then left.

So we asked DC1 what zie really wanted to do, because if zie didn’t come up with anything, it was going to be a summer of chores.  (DC1 doesn’t like expressing opinions, so we have to add a threat to get one– this also works with food options– if zie doesn’t suggest something we threaten Tomato Surprise.  I don’t think zie really believes us, but zie will venture an idea after we’ve gone through the motions.)  And zie said zie really wanted to go to a magic camp.

So we found a couple of magic camps– one for kids and one for people of all ages (one of us would have to spend a week in Vegas for that one).  The one for kids worked with our travel schedule.  It’s expensive, but in previous years there have been multiple STEM camps and this year there’s just the one, so the additional cost of travel is less than the cost of a second camp.

Then we’ll have two trips– one to Portland and one to a Midwestern resort town (these do exist) with the extended family.

And we plan to sign DC1 up for a week-long violin camp in driving distance.  Zie will also continue with hir regular violin and piano lessons.

Between the times, DC1 wants to try making magic videos, so there will be some video processing learning going on.  Zie also wants to spend more time on hir theremin.  Zie wants to start a magic club next year (only sophomores and older are allowed to start clubs), so there may be some planning for that as well.  And video games and a backlog of novels.  It will probably be a busy summer.  But hopefully a fun one.

Next year there may be volunteering or classes or month long math camps or other academically focused things.  But this year, just fun.

What are you and yours doing this summer?  Anything fun?  What was your favorite thing to do in summer as a child?

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The problem with buying an Apple Watch and why we finally gave our 12 year old a smart phone

I heard somewhere that the Apple Watch detects heart attacks and then notifies authorities.  This is not actually true.  But I thought it was true.  DH works from home alone and my second biggest fear is that he’s going to have a heart attack at home and his life could have been saved if people had been around to get him medical attention (my biggest fear is similar but involves semi-trucks and crossing the street).  So I decided that an Apple Watch would be a good thing for DH to get, especially after reading a bunch of highly compelling stories about people whose lives were saved by the watch.  After additional research, I did find out that the newest version of the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch 5, is very good at fall detection and will alert authorities and I have instructed DH to attempt to fall (in addition to chewing the aspirin I make him keep at his desk) should he feel a heart attack coming on and is unable to call 911.  This is only somewhat tongue-in-cheek (yes, I do make him keep aspirin at his desk).  Version 5 also has better detection of heart problems that aren’t heart attacks, so if it’s a heart problem that has some warning signs that would be nice too.  So even after I found out that the heart attack thing isn’t true, I was sold on him having one.

It turns out, if you buy an Apple Watch 5, you’re going to need a new iPhone to go with it (because your iPhone 6 isn’t compatible).  You find this out after you get the watch in the mail and have to decide whether to upgrade the phone or return the watch.

When you get a new iPhone 8, you’re going to need a new SIM card to go with it (because your old iPhone 6 SIM card isn’t compatible).  Fortunately, unlike the iPhone 8 ($450 plus tax), the SIM card is only $5 (plus $4 s/h plus tax).  You also find this out after you get the new iPhone in the mail, but by this point you’re committed.

DC1 is going to get the hand-me-down iPhone 6, which is surprisingly beat up (surprisingly because mine is still in really nice condition).  Turns out it’s only worth about $60 resale which is just a little more than we’ve been paying for DC1’s crappy flip phones.  DC1’s current crappy dumb phone has been driving us crazy because it doesn’t get very good reception at hir school which means zie leaves us voice mails that we can’t understand and zie doesn’t get our texts when we need to pick hir up.  It also has such a terrible battery life that I went and bought hir an external battery. Zie has lost or washed so many flip phones at this point we assumed this one would not last long, but it’s been a few months.  Zie will still have it as a back-up when zie inevitably loses the iPhone.

We are going to have to have a long talk about proper smart-phone use and internet addiction and all those other lovely things, but it will be nice for DC1 to be able to use an electronic calendar and to actually get the texts that hir orchestra teacher tends to send in the middle of the day.

Do you have a smart watch?  If applicable, when did your kid get a smart phone? 

Ask the readers: How can a student remember to turn in hir completed homework?

We’ve tried a bunch of things so far, even talking to one of the teachers, but DC1 cannot always remember to turn in hir homework.  Homework has different deadlines for different classes– math, for example, unlike previous math classes, only wants one big homework packet on the day of the exam.  English has daily bellwork that is only due on Fridays.  Biology is due randomly.  And so on.

DC1 is oblivious to the teacher reminding in class and to other kids putting homework in homework baskets. Things came to a head last week when we got an auto-notification that DC1 had gotten zeroes on three (completed) assignments (two major, one minor) on the same day.  Zie had just not turned them in.  Of course, one of these classes was English, and for the same not turning bellwork in on Friday as has happened before that we literally discussed with hir about this exact assignment this past week.  The other two classes are ones where zie does not have a whole lot of wiggle room, including a math packet on exam day.  This is the second time DC1 has failed to turn in a completed math packet on exam day.  None of these teachers accept late work.

Keeping an assignment notebook hasn’t worked.  Punching holes into papers and putting them in a 3 ring binder hasn’t worked.  Having a folder for random papers hasn’t worked.  For a while there I was going through papers with DC1 every night but got sick of it, and DH said he’d take over and he did for a few days but then he stopped.

The current thing we’re trying is to take a page from DC2’s elementary school.  I have repurposed one of DC2’s old homework folders.  DC1 is going to cross out hir younger sibling’s name and put HOMEWORK FOLDER on it in sharpie.  And it is only going to have homework that is due in it.  And then maybe if it still has stuff in it at the end of the day, zie can run and try to turn it in before getting on the bus?  Of course, this still requires going through those damn papers every night and making sure they get filed instead of just stuffing them in hir backpack in a crumpled mess.  I suspect any system would work if zie would just go through things without a parent assisting.

One of my friends complains that her kid doesn’t do the homework, or forgets about it and does it at the last minute.  But her kid turns things in!  And a 70 or 80% is better than a 0%!  Our kid remembers assignments, does the homework, and then just… never turns them in.  It has been happening all year, and we’re at a complete loss.

Any suggestions?

Honors English and ponderings about the importance of AP tests

At the beginning of the year, DC1 was signed up for all the hardest classes zie could be signed up for as a Freshman.  AP World History instead of Human Geography.  Algebra II pre-AP honors.  Biology pre-AP honors.  JV Orchestra.  Honors Computer Programming… And Pre-AP honors English.

This English class quickly had a detrimental effect on our entire family.  After four years of zero homework (other than the Year of Crafts) and taking half a year to read a simple YA novel in middle-school English, zie was suddenly getting nightly essays, heavy reading assignments, and lots of things zie had never been trained how to do.  Instructions were vague and confusing.  Grades were low and seemed capricious.  English was taking all of DC1’s time and all of our time too trying to figure out what the teacher wanted.  (This is in heavy contrast to AP History in which the teacher is scaffolding essays and giving clear instructions about what she is looking for in every assignment– there’s a lot of work but it doesn’t seem so random.)  One of my work friends had a kid in AP English I with the same teacher the previous year and said it never got any better in terms of time, though hir kid did eventually figure out how to earn As in the class.  She spent all last year complaining about the class and is not really sure what was gotten out of it (other than the ability to do assignments quickly at the last minute and to use tiny words and very simple sentences so as not to get points taken off for spelling/grammar/usage).  So it’s not DC1!

The final straw was an essay on why DC1 wanted to take English Pre-AP.   What zie came up with was that zie wanted to get into a good college and taking an AP English class and getting a high grade on the AP English tests would help.  And… as an educator, I kind of think that’s a piss-poor reason to be spending all this time in such a terrible class.  In fact, if it lowers DC1’s grades in other classes more related to hir interests, or keeps hir from inventing something or exploring extra-curriculars or even just getting enough sleep, then it might hinder DC1 from getting into a good college.

So, we found out that there was a second level of English class that is still honors English, so still on the 5 point scale.  Sadly, it had had fewer assignments and they had all been easy 100s (ex. sign up for turnitin.com), but DC1’s low grades transferred over instead of allowing hir to do those assignments for credit, AND the weighting was different so DC1’s grades dropped even lower. But it’s been slowly moving up, though not to an A.  This English class also seems to be equally capricious on subjective things and there have been several quiz questions in which DC1 picked the correct multiple choice or T/F question but the teacher said it was incorrect even when DC1 backed it up hir answer with textual evidence.  So DC1 is still getting a B, though the B is now higher than it was in the previous class (and hir grade is literally 10 percentage points higher than the class average, which is a C).  I have resigned myself to the more and more likely possibility of not having to pay for MIT or Harvey Mudd.  DH’s alma mater and my sister’s alma mater both have very good computer science/engineering programs and if DC1 keeps up As in all hir other classes, never getting an A in English might still be ok.

Although the grading is still capricious, the instruction is much better.  They’re taught things before they’re asked to do them in an assignment.  They spend a week on things that the other class would do in a day before moving on to something completely different, so there’s time to review and reflect and apply feedback.  There’s also more choice in assignments and MUCH more literature written by people who aren’t dead white dudes, and the literature for the non-pre-AP class has been updated since 1970 (I’m looking at you A Separate Peace).  They’re still cramming what seems like all of Midwestern 7th and 8th grade English into a single semester along with Freshman English (minus the two Shakespeare plays– they only do Romeo and Juliet this year, which we also did as Freshmen), but it’s not at quite such an insane pace.

My friend says English Pre-AP II is almost but not quite as bad as I, so we’re not sure if we’re going to have DC1 switch back in the future.  Non-Pre-AP English II sounds pretty good– they do a big section on modern World Literature that I think could broaden DC1’s horizons a lot.  It is true that getting 3s or higher on the English AP exams would allow DC1 to waive English requirements if zie went to a state school, but they’re pretty useless most of the places zie is looking at applying.  Or if they are useful, zie would need 5s for them to help at all.  I did take one of the AP English exams despite not having AP English (it was an accident– I’d meant to cancel the exam for a refund but somehow didn’t when I cancelled the other AP tests that the college I was going to didn’t accept), and somehow managed to get a 4 even though I guessed most of the multiple choice answers since they were full of terminology I had never heard before in my life.  (This is what I was supposed to be learning all those years, I thought.)

In the mean time, we will keep trusting the AP history classes to teach DC1 how to write.  We’ve heard amazing things about AP US History which zie will be taking next year.  I have to say, I learned a lot more about how to write clear and concise essays in my history classes than I ever did in an English class.  Probably because I never had a deconstructionist history teacher.

Did you take AP exams?  Do you think they’re useful?

Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?

Melva asks:

For Halloween candy, do you let your kids eat as much as they want or do you put limits on how much they can eat at a time?

My colleagues and I were just discussing this before a meeting earlier this week.  The answers ranged from one person only allowing hir kids to have one piece a day and a couple of us (including me) without any rules on how much can be consumed Halloween night.

The conversation included whether it was better to have a little sugar every day for most of the year or to have a couple/few heavy sugary days and then have entirely candy-free days (we’re social scientists, not nutritionists, so this was solely speculative).  Candy quality over time was also discussed.  But the main argument seemed to be that if you let kids eat as much candy as they want, they’ll get sick.

To which I replied, quite truthfully, “Oh, that only happens once.”

Which I guess illustrates how DH and I are very much natural consequences parents.  It’s not like we didn’t tell them that too much candy will give them a tummy ache, but sometimes one doesn’t know what too much is until one has experienced it.  (My learning experience was Easter, First Grade, in case you’re wondering.)

We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have, so the only way they get candy is via Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and what they spend their own money on (also the occasional school/party treat and the weekly dumdum from the piano teacher).  They almost never spend their own money on candy (though that’s where all my money went when I was growing up).  So unless they decide to ration out holiday candy themselves, most days will be candy-free.

There are rules on *when* candy can be consumed in my house, but not how much. They can generally only eat it after meals, mostly after dinner.  That’s because they’re still growing and allowing natural consequences doesn’t extend to missing important vitamins that could contribute to their growth because they’re overfull on sugar.

Is this the right thing to do?  Who knows.  It’s the lazy thing to do, which basically means it’s what works for us.  (We also let our kids nap whenever they were sleepy, while the one piece a day colleague had rigid nap schedules– I don’t think it actually matters.)  Last night our kids only ate a few pieces right after they got back, then noted they were full and put their remaining candy back in their bags.  I would like to say they then moved their bags to the kitchen pantry to their candy shelf, but in truth they left them on the dining room floor.  (Because all their bad habits come from me and I leave my bag on the floor whenever I’m not using it.)

Did you have rules growing up about how much Halloween candy you could eat at a time?  If applicable, do you have rules for your kids?