What are we doing to deal with the huge post-holiday Covid surge

The students are still gone, but our daily rates are higher than they have ever been, with new deaths every day and not just people ages 70+.  One of our admin just lost her father to Covid in town. Rates will only spike in mid-January when the students return.

I am teaching one section in person next semester.  This is going to be dangerous.  The course is limited to 15 students and there’s a wait list.  My two covid deniers from last semester are not in it, thankfully. (My other section is online.  I do not have a choice about either.)

Other than that, we are blessed that we do not have to do anything that puts us or our children at additional risk.  Most people are in situations where their jobs require them to be out with the public more than once a week and they don’t have full power to tell people to pull up their masks like I will.  Most people don’t have the ability to get all groceries delivered or done by curbside pickup.  These folks are at risk of getting covid themselves and spreading covid to others.  Those of us who can reduce the spread should because not everybody can.

SO, what are we doing?  (Bolding the things that are fun substitutes rather than sacrifices)

  1. DH and I are working from home when possible.  (Technically DH isn’t working anymore, but hey.)  This means that I go to work and then come home.  I also requested an 8am course so that there’s nobody before me and there’s a big gap after me (since usually classes start at 9:15).  Even so, I wipe everything I touch down with clorox wipes that I had to buy myself (and it is not easy buying clorox wipes!)  Students sit only in chairs that are 6 feet apart, which are actually 6 feet apart after I complained last summer to the department that the original dots on the chairs where only 1 foot apart on one dimension (they now skip rows, including the first row).  I do not let them touch each other.  When they share items I make them wipe them down with a wipe before if I catch them and squirt them hand sanitizer after.  Doing in-class activities has been a pain in the rear and I collected a lot of suggestions from students last semester about what to do and what not– it seems like pairs are doable 6 feet apart but triplets are not unless one person is zooming from home.  Some students liked sharing screens through zoom while still in the same room and some didn’t– one suggestion was for them to share a google doc which I think will work well.  I tell students that if they are the least bit sick they have to zoom in.  I enforce masking.  I don’t let them eat.  If I drink, I do it from behind the plexiglass (which doesn’t cover the entire board area, which is annoying).  If they drink, I tell them to use a straw if they can and keep the mask on as best they can.
  2. We’re only shopping curbside.  In the few rare cases in which we’ve had to go inside the store in the past (ex. the noodle place and the bibimbap place), we’ve made sure to order ahead so that we can just do a pickup rather than having to wait.  Basically I go to work and do curbside library stuff and DH does grocery, target, and home depot curbside (and takeout about once every two months which is not enough, but we do give big tips when we go).  DH and I do doctors visits.  I did a dentist thing this summer because I needed a crown and a root canal.
  3. We’re keeping our kids home (our school district allows us to choose).  This is definitely the safe decision for DC1 whose high school has at least one new case a day and was getting more like 4 new cases per day just before winter break.  Adding to that that mask enforcement and social distancing wasn’t happening in at least one of DC1’s classes (and the teacher caught covid right after we complained to the principal) and the principal sent out pictures of sports team pictures with only maybe 3 people masked… Now that they’re no longer sending out daily emails there’s a dashboard where we can see all the positive cases at each school (only a point in time info, but it does have the cumulative number), and our high school has about 4x as many cases as the other same-size high school.  For DC2 it would probably be fine to go to school– there have only been 8 cases so far and they’ve been drawn out across the semester.  But the virtual 4th grade teacher is amazeballs so we’re hoping to keep her as long as possible.  (It is really interesting looking at the elementary school data– one would think the numbers would map with SES and ability to not work or to work from home, but while the lowest number of covid cases is the richest college professor zone and the highest number of covid cases is the lowest income most working class zone, the rest of the numbers don’t map at *all* which makes me suspect that school leadership is important when it comes to covid spread.)
  4. We are not having in-person playdates.  I am not at all opposed to outdoor masked playdates, but DC2’s friends only want to do unmasked, so we said no and they stopped asking.  Two of them do have such playdates with each other.  Naturally these are the least safe members of the group– the third friend’s mom is more risk averse and would be safer, but of course, not doing in-person playdates correlates with all those other safe behaviors.  Update:  Just said no to a zoo birthday party after looking at the yelp page for the zoo and seeing lots of maskless selfies (or chin-mask selfies) and people complaining that masking isn’t being enforced.
  5. We have two regular weekly minecraft after-school playdates set up for DC2 and lots of other popup minecraft playdates.
  6. We didn’t visit extended family at Christmas.  Once the second wave hit and especially after the vaccine started coming out, MIL stopped suggesting it.  We now have hopes for summer.
  7. For Thanksgiving we had a socially distanced backyard meal with my sister and her boyfriend.  I was super careful and made sure we had separate tables that were 6 feet apart.  We kept masks on all times we weren’t eating.  I had separate paths set for bathroom use– they went through the garage to the guest bathroom and I had hand sanitizers taped to the door to the house on both sides.  We went through the patio and used the master bathroom or the kids’ bathroom.  For many of the food items (including all the appetizers and desserts), I made sure their table had its own bowls to serve themselves from.  For bigger things like the turkey, they went through first and hand sanitized before and after.  Then I had us use different serving spoons.  I also gave them a separate serving spoon for second helpings but they didn’t end up using it (I’m a bit less concerned about this because it seems like the virus is fragile on surfaces, but still…).  It was a bit tiring having to police the distance between my kids and my sister and I can see how easily if you’re not vigilant “safe” meetings can become unsafe.  Especially if not everybody attending is as careful as you are.  It’s easier to just not, which is why although we talked about doing Christmas at my sister’s patio in the end we just let that conversation not happen in time.  (The next day my kids went in the car for the first time since … last March?-we had to adjust the booster seat-for DC2- and August schedule pickup for DC1… to get flu shots.)
  8. We’ve done a couple of sessions of Crafting with Grandma on zoom, where DC2 and MIL just quietly work on crafts together punctuated by random conversations with DH and DC1 and FIL.  DC1 also did a Crafting with younger cousins on zoom.  (As the oldest by 6 years and very good with kids, DC1 is extremely popular with the younger cousins.)
  9. I’ve started buying a lot more fancy stuff online since we can’t go to the City.  I’ve already gotten a number of you hooked on nuts.com and we’ve spent some time talking about places other than amazon where we’re buying things.  Something remarkable has as well.
  10. Ringfit, exercycle, console dancing games, bicycling, unicyling (DC1 and DH), scootering (DC2), roller skating (DC2), all around the neighborhood, both masked (when outside and there are a lot of people out) and unmasked (indoors or outdoors when there’s few enough people that the road can be crossed if we see someone; this generally correlates with the weather).  I’ve also done a lot of walking around the house watching youtube videos while the kids are out exercising because I don’t want to have to put on pants (if I’m wearing pajama shorts and it’s cold out) or socks.

Something I want to highlight is that after 3/4 of a year of trial and error:  Zoom calls that are just straight-up conversations aren’t as good for the kids as are zoom activities. Having something that allows comfortable silences is way better than something that forces kids to keep talking.  And with kids, zoom is better than FaceTime, at least for the adult in question, because FaceTime involves lots of running around the house and flipping the screen and playing with filters and basically things that are too frenetic for anyone but the cool auntie (aka, my sister, who is just as bad as my kids with FaceTime).  There are a lot of crazy things they can play with on zoom, but there isn’t as much movement of the camera itself.

Playing minecraft with friends with zoom on in the background is better than just zooming (which was what we did last Spring and Summer until DC2’s birthday got us to research safe ways zie could have a party).  Playing Among Us with DH’s brother’s kids didn’t work out so well, though part of that was they couldn’t get audio to work so everything was chat-based which isn’t as fun.

Doing crafts at the same time with Grandma works better than just talking with Grandma.  It’s almost like actually being at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  We’ve done this twice so far and it’s just really nice.  DH and DC1 stop by and chat while DC2 and Grandma work on their own things.

We also set up an origami teaching demonstration with DC1 and the two older kids of DH’s sister because Nana had all four kids and suggested we try that while she looked after the babies.  So DC1 taught the 7 year old and the 5 year old to make fortune tellers and then did a few coin tricks.

Here’s an ask the grumpies from this summer about things to look forward to in the summer (also has a list of stuff we’ve been buying online).  Here’s a “what are you doing for fun?

What safe(r) things have you been doing?  (Note:  any bragging about doing unsafe things will be deleted.  Keep your secret shame secret and try not to hurt people.)

Ask the readers: What edition of the complete works of Shakespeare should I get?

Dear Grumpy Nation:

DC1 hasn’t been getting enough Shakespeare.  I would like to ameliorate that.  I, myself, had a lovely hardback version of the complete works of Shakespeare that was beautifully annotated so that I could easily figure out what was going on while still seeing the natural beauty of the words themselves.  I would read it on days I was home sick from school and had nothing else to do (also how I read Ivanhoe and several other classics my mother placed strategically in the small bookcase next to my bed).  Sadly, all I remember about it is that it had a navy blue hard cover– it appears to have disappeared from my parents’ house in the 20 years I have been away from it.

I have gone to Amazon to seek a new anthology and I am overwhelmed by the options.  I do not want a kindle version– I want something nicely edited and easy to read the annotations/explanations along-side the original words.  Hardback would be nice, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

There are so many choices and so many different price points I don’t even know where to start.  I’m willing to pay for the $75 Norton edition if it is, indeed, the best for our purposes.  But if the $30 Oxford Works is better, by all means I’ll go with that!

I know we have experts on this topic in our readership, so help a lay-person out!  What would you recommend?

Thanks in advance!

An email DH sent DC1’s English teacher

Subject: Poetry extra credit

[English teacher’s name],

My [child, Child’s Name], is in your English class.

I appreciate that there is an extra credit opportunity, and I like the way it is structured, but I am concerned by one of the websites that was suggested.

This site: [not sending any blog traffic its way]

Its first recommended theme is “The negative effects of communism and socialism on the West.” It makes propagandistic claims about communism, as though the Cold War is ongoing, and it makes incorrect statements about socialism.

Unsurprisingly, the “trending poems” appear to also be full of propaganda, e.g., ‘Poem for the Second Inauguration of President Donald J. Trump,’ and ‘On the Main Stream Media’s Fake News.’

I would prefer that what seems to be a far-right, inaccurate, propagandistic website not be presented to my [child] as part of [their] education.

Respectfully,
[DH’s name]

No response.

RBOSchooling- Virtual Covid edition

  • DC2 says there are ~60 kids in hir online 4th grade class (20 in hir “small group” meetings) and that number can change every grading period.  There are only 36 slots for parent teacher conferences so… I’m guessing the actual number is closer to 40.
  • They started with only a little bit of synchronous learning, but that has increased recently.  Now there are 5 days of 8am meetings.  Then new meetings every day for math and for language arts.  There are “small group” meetings 2x/week, one for math and one for English.  GT (gifted and talented pullout) has also increased from 2x/week to 3x/week (including Enrichment which just started).

  • Right now in math DC2 is doing multiple-step word problems. They’re doing the thing where they have to draw boxes and put a little ? where the answer they’re trying to get is. (So like, the total adds up to the boxes on the top row, then you fill in the boxes on the bottom row and put an ? in the one you can’t fill in, then you know what to add or multiply and what to subtract.)
  • They started the year with place value which seems pretty standard to me.
  • DC2 had to pick a tribe that was native to our state before the settlers came and make a powerpoint about them for Social Studies (in Spanish).  They had to answer specific questions about where in the state they lived, what they ate, what they wore, etc.
  • For science they’ve been exploring states of matter and learning about density– they watch videos the teacher has made doing things to various objects and fill out a form about whether they float, how much they weigh, etc.
  • For English they have been exploring the elements of a short story, the different kinds of short stories, and they’ve been taking short stories and fables and changing them up.  So they watched an oscar winning cartoon about a piper bird and had to write a comic strip changing it to being set in the Rain Forest.  Then they took a fairy tale and changed 3 things about it (DC2 had all three wolves being eaten by a bear…) Then they took a fable about a wolf and a goat and changed it to being set in the arctic.
  • Zie has a separate art teacher once a week and music teacher once a week and PE teacher once a week.  Also “computers”.
  • The PE teacher is basically just giving a set of 9 optional activities and announcing what the “sport” is for the week.  No videos or anything.  So this week is Soccer and last week was basketball and so on, and if you don’t have the specific kind of ball, use a balloon or balled up socks.  There’s nothing to turn in.
  • Computers is similar to PE– there will be a video to watch on password safety or typing practice to do, but not much more.
  • The music teacher has been doing these fantastic 20-25 min videos where there’s learning, interaction, and listening, all around a theme.  So they did a rhythm week and played a rhythm game.  Then she asks a specific question in chat for everyone to listen to.  I believe she’s working from home for ADA reasons.  Apparently at the next break she’ll just be doing 4th grade and she’ll have an additional teacher working with her.  I’m not sure what is going on there.
  • The GT teacher has 2 GT pullouts and one enrichment pullout (which DC2 says is like GT but easier and has more kids).  She’s doing all of this from home, so the kids in school are pulled out and sit in a classroom with laptops and an aide.  At the beginning of the semester the GT teacher was very focused on behavior and being able to see everyone and DC2 was disappointed because they weren’t doing anything hard, but a month in they started getting back to normal.  Zie is still disappointed that there’s no chocolate involved with GT this year… one of the benefits of pullout in years prior was they often did projects involving mnms or oreos.
  • The art teacher has mostly been doing powerpoints with (well-chosen) videos from youtube embedded in them, but there’s also assignments each week.  There’s no way to upload them, but DC2 has been really enjoying doing the projects.  Each week they focus on something specific like lines or dots and she talks about how lines can generate movement or make you feel calm or make someone seem imposing depending on if they are diagonal/horizontal/vertical.  The week before last was about space.  This week was about bringing everything together to make a city-scape in the style of one of her favorite painters.  Then she talks about an artist (usually modern) who did a lot of art with whatever the focus is that week.  Way better than my elementary school art classes where we mostly just did crafts… more like my high school art history class.
  • DC2’s Spanish has gotten WAY better this year… like so much better.  Which I do not understand at all because there were 3 years of what was supposed to be complete immersion, and now via virtual schooling zie is able to be chatty in Spanish?
  • DC2 is still able to handle most of English week stuff on hir own, but needs more help on Spanish weeks.
  • DC2 is really enjoying prodigy.  Not enjoying the typing program for computers so much.  Though maybe as zie is getting better… Tuesday night zie stayed up late with the prospecting game.
  • We had our parent teacher conference for DC2 earlier this week, which was a well-deserved mutual admiration society (because she is great and DC2 is great).  Of note, DC2 tested at 7th grade math.  I’m not sure how impressive that actually is, but we’ll definitely need to have hir test out of 5th grade math this summer (testing out of 5th grade math is pretty standard for kids planning to do Calculus in high school).  I’m not sure the teacher knows that DC2 is grade-skipped, but I guess she doesn’t need to know?
  • DC1 has been having to do ridiculous art projects again.  It’s like we’re back in middle-school!  Even worse, they have to be dropped off at the high school.  We can’t just take a picture and upload it.

Ask the grumpies: Computer educational programs that DC2 (grade 4) loves (and others zie’s ok with)

Parent to two virtual learners asks:

“Have you or your readers been using any computer programs to supplement virtual learning at home? I need to work full-time and my kids (elementary schoolers) seem to get done with their work in 2-3 hours each day. They don’t want to spend all their time reading books and I don’t want them to spend all their time playing video games or fighting with each other. Do you have any educational games and similar things to recommend? Anything non-electronic that doesn’t create too much of a mess?”

DC2 loves Prodigy to pieces. It’s basically an RPG-ish game where your choices don’t matter much, but in order to fight monsters you have to get a math problem correct. The math problems are very similar to going through Khan Academy– they get harder and you master a specific skill and then they give you a new skill. I think it’s free and they make their money with in-game purchases that DC2 would really like to have but we have not been doing.

DC2 loves Epic! though sadly we have to pay for it now because this year’s teacher didn’t sign up for it like last year’s did. (Technically zie can sign in as guest with hir class from last year, but that seems wrong somehow.) Epic has a lot of fun books, including a TON of comicbooks to read. All the Big Nates, even some that are so old or new that DC1 doesn’t own them. (There are Bill Clinton jokes(!))

DC2 likes DuoLingo just fine. Zie is doing Spanish with it, mostly on weekends. There isn’t much playing with it if it’s not required like there is with Prodigy.

We’ve recommended DragonBox before– DC2 did a spin through again before school started this past summer.

Similarly to DuoLingo, DC2 is fine with Khan Academy. Zie is mostly going through the math part.

DC2 is supposed to go through a math thing called xtramath, but finished last year, so after zooming through addition and subtraction, hir teacher asked hir to play Kakooma instead. DC2 is not a fan of the timed aspect of it, but did enjoy it at first.

Instead of Epic!, DC2’s teacher is doing Reading A-Z, which has more educational stuff than does Epic and has step readers in both English and Spanish. One not so great thing is that it tested DC2 in English and is now only allowing hir to read within a few levels of hir tested level in Spanish. Hir Spanish level is not as high as hir English level! There’s no Phoebe and Unicorn here, but there’s lots of non-fiction.

With all the additional laptop stuff, DC2’s computer class has a lot of typing. They use Typing Agent through Clever. This is not as much fun as typing of the dead, but it’s more focused for if you don’t know how to touch type (as opposed to just needing practice to get your speed up).

In terms of exercise, we have two games for the Switch right now that DC2 has been using. Ring Fit Adventure is a good exercise game, much like Prodigy except you do exercises to complete an attack. Zie has also been doing Just Dance 2020 and now I have Baby Shark stuck in my head for all eternity even though I’m fairly sure I’ve only heard it twice.

DC2 is also getting into Minecraft Coding Academy, though that occasionally requires assists from DH. Similarly DC1 (in high school) is working on USACO coding projects (zie isn’t actually signed up, just going through the problems)

I’m probably forgetting something, but these are the things that have been popular enough (or required enough by class) to come to mind.

In terms of non-electronic stuff:

DC2’s art teacher requires them to draw daily in a composition book. We’ve gotten some calligraphy pens and so on to make that a little more interesting. They’re both also into origami, but that makes a mess.

DC2 does a page of Singapore Math each day.

We’ve downloaded a bazillion children’s classics from Gutenberg to DC2’s kindle (Oz is very popular with both kids, also E. Nesbitt).

We’ve increased the chores they have to do– doing laundry has been added to their list which previously only had laundry folding and removing things from the dishwasher. Now there’s 15 min of cleaning their rooms each day, though sometimes we add an additional 15 min to DC2 because zie is so talented at making messes. DC1 cooks a meal a week (usually on Sundays) and DC2 helps. They also pick out one meal each week for menu planning (DC1 makes hirs).

DC2 also has regular minecraft playdates with friends which isn’t exactly educational but is social at least. DC2 and hir frenemy are actually much more mature playing on minecraft together than playing on the playground. Now that it’s cooler outside they’re getting kicked out for exercise again. Oh, and they’ve started teaching themselves contact juggling (using a weighted rubber ball, not one of DH’s actual clear contact juggling balls because there’s a lot of dropping). I’ve been trying to get DC1 to pick up pencil twirling because zie fidgets by worrying things until they break off and zie needs to stop doing that, but so far no luck (zie is also uninterested in fidget spinners). DC2 has been working on juggling one club, but that somehow morphs into all the juggling clubs being all over the floor of the living room.

Grumpy Nation: What educational stuff do you recommend for when you have to work but your kids are out of schoolwork?

RBO Virtual learning with the kids

  • DC1 got into all hir classes because hir programming teacher is in the age range in which covid is super dangerous, so zie is teaching from home.  I am glad that our district is following ADA guidelines and allowing this for teachers.  And that DC1 doesn’t have to take AP physics on top of pre-AP chemistry and AP US History.
  • Two of DC1’s classes are being taught synchronously (programming and history) and the rest asynchronously.
  • From the video streams of DC1’s history class, it looks like social distancing and masking guidelines are being followed at least in that class.  There are only 12 kids in it in person and like another 12 online.
  • DC2’s virtual teacher is AMAZING.  Simply amazing.  Fourth grade is such a formative year and I think maybe it’s lucky we lucked into her for virtual learning because we wouldn’t have had her otherwise.  She’s from another elementary school and taught third grade last year.  She’s smart and cheerful and organized and understanding and it’s no wonder when she asked kids on their first day what they were looking forward to most, all the kids who had her last year said having her as a teacher again.
  • The video DC2’s teachers sent out for in-person learners showed lots of skits with not social distancing going on among the teachers.  Another reason to be glad we kept hir at home.  At least the high school video had all teachers appropriately masked and social distanced (though the principal’s mask slipped down below her nose a couple of times during the video).
  • At schedule pick-up (where DC1 did not actually get hir schedule– someone made a mistake) zie got a really nice quality mask from the high school.  Waaaay better than the mask that our university sent us over the summer along with a very tiny thing of wipes and sanitizer.
  • I have been teaching in person.  (I assume we’ll get shut down at some point, but haven’t yet.)  We are expected to bring our own wipes to class to wipe off keyboards and markers.
  • DC2’s class has some small synchronous components.  We’re still ironing out the kinks in those.
  • DC2’s Spanish weeks have been taking more of my time because zie isn’t as comfortable with Spanish and because DH doesn’t know Spanish.
  • I had hoped that me not being in my office would stem a lot of the “just one quick question”s (that are never one and never quick) about the homework, but they send emails asking for zoom meetings outside of office hours with vague “walk me through what I’m doing wrong” on the homework.  If you have a specific question, ask it on the course website.  If you don’t have a specific question, come to office hours.  If you can’t come to office hours… then figure out a specific question to ask on the course website.  Or get a private tutor.   There’s a reason I have office hours instead of being available by appointment for all my students.
  • DC2’s frenemy whose little sister got a positive test for covid ended up doing the in-person schooling in the end. So two of DC2’s friends are in person and one is virtual.
  • So far DC1 has been getting to sleep earlier than last year.  Zie says zie doesn’t waste as much time in class doing nothing.
  • Even though (according to DC1) English still sucks, DC1 is glad that zie is using video-editing and powerpoint skills instead of coloring skills.  Zie thinks they may also be taught grammar and sentence diagramming instead of not being taught those things.
  • I think we’ll send a $1K giftcard to DC2’s virtual teacher.  Not quite sure how to get it to her.  I guess one of us will have to actually go into her school?  It’s a different elementary school so we will need to email that school principal to see what to do.

For those of you with school-age kids, any schooling updates?

Personal goals for my kids this summer

Huh… the summer is over and apparently I never posted this.  Let’s see how they did.

This summer I would like:

  • DC1 to learn to notice and do chores (like emptying the dishwasher) without being asked at all.  (Currently:  must be asked at least 3 times)  DC1 has NOT learned to notice without being asked.  We have added the rule that if zie has to be asked more than once, then zie has to also LOAD the dishwasher after.
  • DC1 to learn some more cooking and to cook at least once a week without complaint.  DC1 has learned more cooking and does cook once a week sans any but the most perfunctory complaint.
  • DC2 to flush the toilet after use EVERY TIME.  This still needs work.
  • DC2 to stop whining.  Full stop.  Just no more whining.  This has gotten better, but there’s still whining on occasion.  I have gotten better about just telling DC2 that I can’t work when zie is whining and zie needs to go to hir room to whine.
  • DC2 to be polite with goodbyes rather than just abruptly saying goodbye and leaving without preamble (both in person and on zoom).  DC2 thinks this is something of a game now.  Zie is a little better but now just does it this way to annoy me, somewhat similar to DC1’s complaining about cooking.
  • Both kids to pick up their dirty laundry from the floor without being asked.  This seems to have gotten better.  We’ve also ceded laundry control to the kids for their laundry and DC1 recently learned that if zie puts it off too long then they run out of towels.  I’m not sure if this lesson will stick. 

I have some preferences as well, like it would be nice for them to use soap when washing their hair This seems to have happened, or for DC1 to keep hir nails clipped to violin-length Still requires nagging.  But I feel like we shouldn’t ask for too much.

The whining though, that has to stop.  Seriously.  How am I going to make it through the semester?

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Ask the grumpies: Mini-update and how to add movement and lights to legos?

(No Longer A) Mover says:

Pre-covid, moving to the bay area got delayed and we kept DC in the local school until the new school year. Everyone has been working remotely (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future), so no updates anticipated.

Separately, my DD (5) has recently gotten super into LEGOs (Friends, Disney ladies) and wants to figure out how to add electronic movement. Any thoughts for an age appropriate intro to robotics kit that would fit the bill? Is that even the right thing to research? The kits mostly seem geared towards robots or a specific task (buzzer for your room!) vs open-ended. She is likely more interested in adding a light to the submarine, making Anna’s canoe move, etc.

Also—brainquest was a bright spot this spring…great recommendation! Thanks again for all of the info you and your community share.

Well, we just got our DC2 (8) a Chibi Lights set because Amazon kept pushing it and I finally gave in.  Zie hasn’t used it yet though because zie has been too busy with the birthday present that led to this recommendation, a Nintendo Labo kit to go with the Nintendo switch (A++ would recommend if you already own a switch).  But in theory Chibi lights will allow you to add small lights to anything via stickers and tiny batteries.

One of my DH’s many professional hats is electrical engineer so he and DC2 (7 at the time) added a bunch of LED lights to a poster project last winter break, but I think that involved actual soldering.  DH says he ordered parts from adafruit (not sponsored) which he says is a great website for kids electronics projects.   He suggests going through their projects guide for kids.  The poster idea came from one of these.  (You can also get more chibi electronics stuff and somewhat lower prices than amazon from adafruit.)

I know there’s a youtube community that makes little houses (like christmas villages but not for christmas) somewhere– that’s probably where you would want to be looking for tips and tricks, but I’m not entirely sure what to look for (I once clicked on a twitter video and then youtube suggested a bunch, but it has been a while).  Aha!  Here’s one of their youtube channels:  Miniature Land.  That’s probably the direction you want to take your google searches– figure out how these miniature doll house makers do their automation and lighting.  There’s all sorts of hobbyist webpages

In terms of non-lego robot/electronic/engineering projects:

Ozo-bots (not sponsored) were really fun for both kids for about a week over winter break a few years back and then they got bored.  The prices have doubled since we got ours.. I don’t know if the kit has gotten better.

We never did get much use out of the Lego Mindstorms (not sponsored) DC1 got many years ago.  I’m not sure why not.  It seems better suited for Robotics teams rather than home use, somehow.  DH says this would be the most obvious way to add movement to legos, but it is expensive and will be hard for a five year old.  (Here’s some more movement stuff directly from lego (also not sponsored))

Neither of the kids were huge fans of snap circuits either.

We have two raspberry pi... and an arduino (not sponsored) those also got about a week of use last summer before going back to sleep in their boxes forever.

DC1 (then pre-teen) had a lot of fun designing things with an online CAD program and then we sent off hir designs to shapeways (not sponsored) and they sent back the item in whatever material we requested.  (Zie made a ring for my sister that way one year.)

DC1 LOVED the theramin kit zie got last Christmas.  (Though it too has been put away for a while.  But it did get a lot more than one week of use!)

What I’ve really wanted is one of those big circuit board kits that Radio Shack used to make where you could use the set to do a ton of projects like make a short-wave radio station or an alarm or a ton of other stuff.  I spent days playing with it.  But last time I searched I couldn’t find anything like it.  I mean, snap circuits does some of the stuff but not any of the really cool stuff.  Here’s an example.

Grumpy Nation, do you have any suggestions for adding movement and lights to legos?  How about other fun electronics toys?

Finally got my dependent daycare refund!

When the quarantine started, congress let people stop contributing to their dependent daycare accounts.

However, as someone who gets paid over 9 months on the academic rather than calendar year, I only had two paychecks left.  I requested payments stop but somehow that didn’t work out correctly.

Then, later, near the end of April, I got an email from payroll saying that because of our unique situation, I could request a refund from all of our unspent DDA moneys.  By June 1st I had still not gotten any refunds and still had $1500 or so in the DDA account, so I asked what I should be expecting.  I was told it would come in a July paycheck (I don’t get paid in July).  In July, I got a refund for something under $700 with over $500 taken out in taxes.  My DDA account noted that I’d been reimbursed the $700, but I still had money in the account (they said I still had $1500 that I could spend, but if I dug into details, they just assumed they would be getting that $700 back from the university– the actual number I should have been looking at was the how much I had left in the account which was ~800.)  I was also really confused about the high tax rate (the exact rate was 83%).

So I emailed the payroll people who told me I could get the refund and they didn’t answer my question about the missing money, though they did say that $500 was because I have an additional $500 in taxes coming out of every paycheck (this is because the last time I did the tax calculator re: the marriage penalty and our expected dividends etc. we apparently needed to put away another $4,500 for taxes).  Even though this was a reimbursement it still counted as a paycheck.  So whatever.

I emailed again to ask specifically about the missing money and was informed that I needed to have requested that refund by some date in May.  And I was like, I requested it back on April 30th!  The woman was like, I don’t know what to tell you, it’s the government’s rules, not ours.  Once the money has been sent to your provider it can’t come back.  But I could still use it for after school care in the Fall.  So I emailed the person who originally emailed me about the reimbursement, who turned out to be her boss.  He responded that I needed to have requested it by sometime in May and it was too late now.  And I responded to *him* that I requested it back on April 30th, see below, (all of these emails were included in the email chain– it started with their email, then my request for reimbursement and asking what I needed to do to make it happen, then their response that my response was enough, then my questions asking when to expect my money).  Then I got an email from the boss saying that he had found an arithmetic mistake and I was owed $800.  Then the woman sent me a separate email saying that well, since I had requested it on April 30th the ticket was open and she could do me this favor and I should be getting $800.  Then the boss sent me an apology and said he’d make sure I got an out of payroll payment so I wouldn’t have to wait until October.  Then the woman sent me the math for where the $800 number came from and said she could do me a favor and request it out of payroll so I would get it in August.  They did not cc each other.

And then on July 31st it magically showed up in my savings account (minus regular taxes, but not minus an additional $500).  Yay!

So the moral here is:  Sometimes payroll makes mistakes and even if a deadline has passed, if it was their screw-up and not yours, if you keep poking at it you’ll probably get the money that’s owed to you.  Most government things seem to take into consideration the way that corporations screw up accounting from time to time and allow it to be fixed.

I opted to leave the DDA blank for this coming year.  I just won’t get the tax break for summer camp next year if we have it.

If you have kids who qualify for a dependent daycare account, are you using it this year?  Are your childcare costs going up or down or unchanged because of the pandemic?

Ask the grumpies: Should I homeschool this year?

Lisa asks:

The more I read about experiences reopening K-12 schools around the world, the more it becomes clear that things will be chaotic and unpredictable with openings and closings on a dime. I’d love to solicit the wisdom of the Grumpy Nation about whether it is going to be better to stick with local schools this year and expose parents and kids to all of the stress, uncertainty, risk, etc. or to commit to full-on homeschooling and expose parents and kids to the stress and challenges that not-so-voluntary homeschooling will cause. I’m starting to lean toward creating my own curriculum so that I can be in control of what’s happening and not have to worry about what the school district is doing. But although I have plenty of experience with college-level curriculum development and teaching, I have no experience at the K-12 levels.

This is a really great question.

For me, I have too much work of my own to do to fully home-school and when I’m making trade-offs, a year of my career is more important than DC2 missing out on some stuff in fourth grade.  This may seem ironic given that both of my kids have skipped grades and they have a full complement of workbooks to do (well, DC2 does… DC1 only has a Spanish grammar along with piano and violin, but zie USED to have a full complement of workbooks) during the summer.  But we don’t give them workbooks or have them skip grades in order to optimize them so much as to keep them from bouncing off the walls.  Ideally they’d be getting more challenge in school without the skipping or extra work, but they don’t, so we supplement.  (An exception being the Spanish grammar which really is for remediation since Spanish III is supposed to be tough and DC1 barely scraped an A in Spanish II.)

So, having decided on having the kids at home, we’re going to be following our district’s online curriculum and will supplement DC2 as necessary.  (DH isn’t as steeped in K-12 stuff as I am, so although he could do day-to-day stuff, I would be the one in charge of the curriculum.)  We’re in a state where the K-8 curriculum is light so we don’t have any worries about DC2 being overburdened– we would likely supplement, not change.  (DC1 is taking a bunch of AP classes, so there’s some potential for difficulty there, but DC1 will just have to lump it– we have no plans for supplementation other than music unless zie needs tutoring.)

But it sounds like you’re in a situation where there isn’t an online option.  You either deal with the unpredictability of opening and closing and opening and potentially getting sick or not.

Most kids from stable home environments can handle a surprising amount of instability.  I wouldn’t worry too much about the stress of popping in and out– unless you have a specific reason to believe otherwise (like your specific kid has difficulty with change), they will probably handle it better than you do with the uncertainty.  But the stress to parents and the risk of illness is real.

Plenty of people do homeschooling and many of those who do say it’s only a couple of hours of work each day.  This is probably true.  There are many pre-made curricula you can follow (be careful though, they lean towards fundamentalist religious/stratified gender roles/anti-some kinds of science– make sure you get a good set aimed at more secular audiences).  The trick is that you have to get your kids to be able to work independently.  They have to be able to figure things out from reading or from whatever electronic source you’re using.  They need to be able to sit down and work on things without asking for help or getting distracted every 30 seconds.  This works well with some kids, and less well with others.  (Nobody in our family is looking forward to DC2’s constant plaintive and non-specific, “I neeeeeed hellllllllp,” whine when school starts.)

Another caution:  One of the things I really hate about one homeschooling blogger is how she almost brags about how she’s passed on her hate and fear of math to her kids (especially her daughters) via home schooling.  She doesn’t say it like that.  She thinks it’s genetic or something.  It’s not.  It is 100% taught.  If you hate or fear a subject and can’t pretend not to, just don’t even start.  Especially if it’s math.  If they’re lucky, I end up having to pick up the pieces when they get to college and it’s so sad.  If they’re not lucky, then they’re trapped following less lucrative career paths with a lot of competition.

From what I understand all the rich people are hiring nanny-tutors or getting together with other rich people to hire laid off teachers to do “pods” or “mini-schools”.  If you’ve got money you could do that or you could buy an online version of whatever grade your kids are in (I don’t have links, but I’ve seen people talking about such things on the internet… I know Stanford Online High School has some stuff for gifted middle and high school students, but I don’t know any details… here’s a list of high schools).  We’re not doing that because our main problem won’t be solved with DC2 having an online tutor and I just don’t trust people in my town not to catch Covid at church or a bar enough to let them in my house.

I give you permission (if you need it) to be selfish about your life and your career and being a good role model to your daughters and any future daughters-in-law if you decide not to put a huge amount of effort into home-schooling.  I also give you permission (if you need it) to try out home schooling and see how much time it takes and if it takes too much time or causes too much distress at home to try something completely different.  Just Khan Academy and SciShow.  Just Unschooling.  Just whatever keeps them safe and out of your hair.  Kids can be suboptimized in order for you to get your things done.  We’re talking at most a year here, not a lifetime.  And they will be learning many important things even if they spend the year unschooling.  You will have books and the internet (though be careful about its potential for misuse) and video games and so on.  They will learn a lot of the things we did back in a less enlightened latch-key time about how to entertain oneself so mommy can get some work done.

In terms of online K-8 supplementation:  Khan academy is awesome.  BrainQuest workbooks are great (not a substitute for K-8, but they do hit many of the major points for K-8).  Having lots of books to read around the house both fiction and non-fiction is important.  Epic! has access to a ton of great comic books.  Youtube has neat educational channels like SciShow and CrashCourse.  Minecraft, especially creative mode, is fantastic in terms of developing spatial skills and doing digital art.  I cannot say enough good things about the Dragonbox suite of math games (even for your high schooler!  even for your kindergartner!).  We got DC1 a year subscription to the complete Adobe suites so zie can teach hirself video editing–there’s a student discount for it.  Not cheap, but cheaper than a week of away summer camp would have been. There’s a world of educational activities that your kids can do independently of you–even if they’re not getting precisely what they’d be getting in K-12.

Good luck with your decisions, and remember that you can change your mind (and that you’re still a great mom even if you don’t sacrifice yourself for small improvements in your kids’ education)!

Grumpy Nation:  What are your thoughts on home schooling?  How about supplementation?  If you have K-12 kids, how are you dealing with the uncertainty of the fall?  Or how are you creating certainty?