Friday, July 22, 2005

bragging rights

Since I've been staying at home with the kids, I decided to keep up with the homeschooling program over the summer, since it helps to fill the long and empty hours between breakfast, when Natasha leaves for work, and dinnertime, when she comes home and the day falls into the inexorable slide through our bedtime rituals. Yes, even though it's mid-July, Evangeline is getting no summer vacation from homeschooling.

I've been really impressed with her reading prowess. Natasha started her on the basics last summer, while I was still working at WCN Newspapers, leading her through a series of Bob books and a Hooked on Phonics curriculum we had borrowed from the library. Once Evangeline got the skills down, she's been reading up a storm. I usually have her read a Bible story first thing in the morning, and will read a history or science text with her before lunch, and so on. Though I lack the expertise to say for certain, I think she's reading on a third grade level, or possibly higher. Today, on her own initiative, she picked up her Spider-Girl comic book and read it for about 45 minutes, including time in the car. Wednesday night, I gave her the first volume of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series, and explained how it was a true story about pioneers during the nation's westward expansion. (We've been reading about Lewis and Clark lately in history.) She read that for about half an hour, even though Rachel was watching TV in the same room.

She's also doing a bang-up job with math. She finished a math exercise book today that dealt solely with addition, but included double-digit addition and addition where you have to carry numbers into the tens column. She still uses her fingers, but she's getting probably about 90 percent of the problems right.

The area where I've been most impressed lately, though, has been writing. To get her used to putting thoughts to paper and to help her find a safe way to express herself (plus to keep her practicing her penmanship and related skills), I bought Evangeline a 100-page notebook in May. The idea was to have her write two sentences or so every day, about whatever she wants, and gradually steer her toward mastering different aspects of writing, like neatness, direction of letters, sizing and capitalization. I haven't cared too much about spelling, since I figure that'll come in due time and is less important right now than just getting used to writing.

I won't say I've been as diligent as I would have liked in having her write daily (though I've been much better this week), but even so, the change has been remarkable. Her first entry, dated June 3, 2005, starts off something like this: ZOO We EOWYNan. nOCk nOCK Who'S there? BO. BO WhO? BOPeP. MOMMY iS MY MOMMY anD MY SiSter'S MOMMy to.

Tuesday, though, she wrote this: Onse there was a happy Girl and the Girl was so happy that she Just went away. the end. I have to male my boy!

And today, she sat at the table and penned this entry:

A Girl Wanted an Ice cone but the Girl's mom woudn't let her only girl have any ice cones and only the girl's dad would let his only child have an ice cone any time she would want an ice cone! the end. A boy was with his mom evry bit of the day and the boy Slept with his mom evrey night!

It's a run-on sentence, to be sure, and she still needs to work on capitalization, but that's pretty impressive for someone the district considers too young to be in kindergarten. She's being more consistent about making her lowercase letters smaller than the uppercase ones, she's getting the spelling mostly right without asking us, and she's communicating fairly complicated thoughts in writing. (And I would be impressed even if the nice parent in the story weren't the father.)

Rachel and I meanwhile have experienced a renaissance in our relationship. Initially, Rachel took it pretty badly that I had become the stay-at-home father. She stopped taking naps even though she needed them -- she would throw a fit if I tried to get her to take one -- and we've had a few problems now and then with things.

Well, sometime last week Rachel started taking naps again. I ask her if she was ready to go upstairs for a nap, she picks a book for storytime, and then we lie down side by side on a bed for a few minutes, and she's out like a light. Tremendous. Last night, Natasha went to read her a bedtime story, and Rachel insisted that she wanted Daddy to read to her. It was a wonderful feeling, since there have been many times she would get upset if I tried to do anything with her while Natasha was around, even as simple as buckling her car seat for her. Once when we were playing hide-and-seek, she found me "hiding" on top of the bed, and even gave me a kiss, "to break the witch's spell," as she put it.

I was reminded today at the park at how different from her sister she is in some ways too. One of the playsets at the park is a blue plastic jungle gym with levels that I would have thought too far apart for her to climb. Shows how little I know. The little monkey climbed to the top of the jungle gym as fast as her sister, who is 3 years older than she. A little down from the jungle gym is a conifer that appears to have grown specifically for little children to climb. It has three main branches that at various points are practically parallel to the ground; elsewhere they slope gently upward, and are covered with short but sturdy branches that are perfectly suited for small hands to grab. Last week, when we visited this park for the first time, Rachel climbed higher on it, with no assistance, than Evangeline would climb on it with me standing right there and offering to help her.

And did I mention that she also likes Spider-Man? (Of course, that might not mean too much. She also pretends to be the Green Goblin, and just today had me draw a picture of her wearing a Green Goblin T-shirt and brandishing one of the Goblin's pumpkin bombs.)

So the girls are fine, Natasha is fine, and even though I am a mean, rotten-scoundrel parent, I am fine too. Couldn't be happier, actually.

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