Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Confronting My Fear of Art - Creating a Masterpiece

Writing a review of an art curriculum is intimidating to me. Visual art is not my strength. I distinctly remember my elementary teacher looking at each of my projects with a face that said "Oh, honey. You sure tried." As soon as art became an elective, I elected right out and focused all my artistic inclinations toward the performing arts.

But now, I am the everything teacher, and I need to confront these demons so that I give my girls a fair shot. So far, they seem like performing artists as well, but if I don't give them the opportunity to experiment, they might have a passion or a talent that goes undiscovered. But needless to say, art is something I find difficult to teach, so I am happy that things like the Monthly Plan from Creating a Masterpiece are out there.

Creating a Masterpiece

This online program is created by an artist who teaches at a fine arts school, and has expanded into virtual lessons. It's meant for all ages, and all skill levels, with materials that can easily be obtained at craft stores or online. Theoretically, you can start from the beginner level and work your way through the program, moving through mediums and getting into projects that are more and more difficult. Or you can focus on different styles and periods or fine art (Impressionism, Romanticism, etc.) Or, as my family chose, you can skip around, looking for projects that spark your creative spirit.

Madison had gotten to use oil pastels in a library workshop a few months ago, and she was itching to try them again, so we found a beginning project that used them. Once Reagan saw what Madison was doing, she wanted to experiment too.

I anticipated watching the videos and creating the project together, step by step. Although, again, I am not a visual artist, I have really enjoyed those wine/painting parties that have become popular for mom's night out, and I figured this would be similar. It was ok that I didn't feel confident, because I had a teacher who would take me (and the girls!) through, step by step.

And that is what the artist intended. She is clear, she is detailed, she is easy to follow, and the camera work is excellent. In the beginner level, she speaks like she is speaking to young children, and it is absolutely possible that a focused child, even as young as five, could complete a project successfully.

Our issue was that my girls (who, remember, are five and six) didn't want to follow her lead and create the exact masterpiece she created. They wanted to use the techniques and materials she was using, but they had their own ideas of what do, what colors to use, and how they wanted their final products to look. They did not want to create a winter cabin. They wanted to experiment.

Masterpieces that would land them a scholarship to an art program, or an exhibit in a museum? Masterpieces like the one below, which impresses me to my bones? No.

Creating a Masterpiece

But they were watching. They were learning. They were creating. And both girls were exceedingly proud of what they accomplished, and are begging to use the pastels again. Which, as a reluctant artist myself, I count as success. I am happy to have this program take over the art instruction, even if my girls don't follow it exactly.

Creating Beautiful Art at Home {Creating A Masterpiece Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stopping the Unstoppable

Reagan recently turned five. Five is a big deal to kids. I remember when Madison hit that "whole hand" birthday. She felt like one of the big kids she'd been eyeing for years. I'm not sure what she thought was going to change when she passed from "little kid" to "big kid", but it was a really big deal to her.

Naturally, five was a big deal for Reagan as well. She's always trying to catch up to Madison in age. She's seen what five brings. She knows it's big kid territory. For the weeks preceding her birthday, she talked and talked about what a big kid she was and how excited she was for her birthday. You know, like kids do. She talked about her party, her wish list, her cake, all the decisions she'd get to make that day.

But here's the catch - Reagan is a Leap Baby, and 2017 doesn't have a February 29 on the calendar. For us, it isn't a big deal. We have told her that her birthday is the last day of February. She knows it's the 29th, but we made a big deal about writing the big day on our wall calendar in the February 28th box. She gets it, as much as a five year old can. Birthdays are a big part of being a kid, and she's willing to accept anything.

Then come the jokesters. The ones who just won't let it go.

"You aren't five!", these hilarious adults bray. "You're only ONE!"

"Awwww....too bad," they say, with mock sadness. "No birthday this year!"

I usually smile, and make light of the conversation, like a tall person replies to "how's the weather up there?" when they hear it seventy-five times and are trying to be polite, while letting the quipster know that they really aren't all that original. My response is usually to reassure my five year old that, sure, she's special, but she gets that fundamental childhood birthday rite.

And I wish, I wish, that would be the end of it. But most of the time, said adult jokester needs us to know just how amusing they think this line of small talk is, and they won't let it go. Nope, she isn't five!! You're not correcting me, mom of said small child! I have this funny line of conversation and I am sticking to it!

I'm not sure why. Is it that weird to them? Have they always wanted to meet a Leap Baby to try out material they've only seen on the internet once every four years? Do they expect me to join in? What is their end game? Do they want the kid to cry? It would be one thing if she was an adult, eager to join in and claim she was only ten instead of forty, but do they not remember being five and being obsessed with all things birthday?

There's no good solution, so I usually flip back to barely contained annoyance, tell Reagan confidently that she sure is five, and change the subject (or leave, if I can). But I was chatting with my best friend, and she's also been the brunt of plenty of "can't drop it" jokes. She's short - only 4'8", and she's heard it all, from "are you shopping in the kids' department" to "hey, can you even drive without a booster seat? The law says you can't!", and she's said that she hasn't figured out how to make them stop in the twenty years she's heard the same old quips, but that her favorite way to put those "won't drop it" adults in their place is to play dumb. (By the way, this doesn't go for the typical jokester, who is willing to drop it after a laugh, or even the person who is generally interested in the seatbelt law because they have a kid itching to ditch the booster).

She'll give them a quizzical look and act like she doesn't get it. Wait, why, is that funny? Please, good sir, explain it to me.

Oh, I'm short. Thank you so much for noticing. That's not a rude thing to say at all. Ok, let's move on.

Well, I tried it, and all I can say is, damn, that's satisfying, especially because the random shopper at Party City was a textbook I'm getting the last word and hanging onto this joke forever person. The person who looked at our two straight faces and had to explain to us why they were hilarious faltered pretty fast and man, did it feel good.

And when Reagan's forty, she can decide if she wants to be ten! A woman never judges!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Good Foundations Are Key

Sometimes tried and true is a great fit. Since we got the chance to review it, Madison has been gaining confidence in her reading with Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level B.

Madison's an interesting kid to teach. She learned her letters, her letter sounds, and plenty of sight words early. She has a crazy memory and picked up on everything verbal so quickly that I was convinced we had a prodigy. When she was preschool aged, we worked our way through kindergarten curriculum, slowed only by her fine motor skills. I dedicated plenty of time to letter formation, since I thought that's where she needed her work. I was an early, advanced and vociferous reader, so I figured she was following in my footsteps. I was confident I could guide her. Heck, if she was really like me, I'd barely need to teach! Put the right books in front of her and she'd soar!

That's where things got tricky. By the time we began a first grade curriculum for her kindergarten year, she'd lost some of her mojo. She'd lost the drive and a good portion of her swagger. She went from tearing through books, so proud of what she could read, to insisting that we read for her. She started skipping easy sight words, claimed she couldn't decode basic words, and just seemed to be losing ground.

It is SO HARD to be the parent and teacher in that situation. Was this normal? Was she just an early bloomer instead of a gifted reader? Was it me? Did I do something wrong?

She was still "grade level", even "above grade level", but I needed to shake things up, by going back to basics. In this case, way back. Eclectic Foundations uses McGuffey readers, copywork, and grammar to make sure that students have a quality, solid, foundation in language and reading.

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations }

We chose Level B for Madison, which generally seems to be a good fit. Level A is generally recommended for students who are still learning the alphabet and are not reading.

The program is designed to be used four days a week, which makes the length of each level about 36 weeks. We generally do school 3-4 days a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. It would be easy to adjust to your own pace in the teacher's manual.

Madison's favorite part of the program, was, bizarrely, the word cards. There is something about using the different colors to identify the parts of speech that really caught her interest.

As for the passages, she wasn't hooked, but the passages are also short enough where she wasn't turned off either. It was as if she knew that these passages were for learning, not entertainment, and she was willing to put in the work.We had not done much poetry, so she was definitely interested in that.

Then there's the copywork. Poor Madison. Copywork is the bain of this poor kid's existence. We've tried character handwriting books, mechanic approach to handwriting books, personalized worksheets, joke books, disguising copywork as spelling words or making lists, and she is just not having it. In Level B, the copywork is cursive. She's fascinated by cursive, and I'd been holding off until she has print mastered.

So she was into the cursive copywork, but frustrated. The letter that's being focused on is written in cursive, but the rest of the copywork is displayed as print. She didn't know how to connect the letters (or really, any other letters other than the focus one), so we adjusted those to print, with a "reward" of trying them in cursive if the print was done well. She was happy to do this at the beginning, but it did lose the luster after a few lessons.

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations }

Overall, the curriculum is solid, the planning and prep required of the teacher is simple and straightforward, the work is appropriate and isn't overwhelming. The price is definitely right, even if you order a printed version ($56 for a complete spiral bound curriculum, $30 for a digital download). It will put your student on a good foundation. I liked using it. But I would definitely think about whether or not it was really right. I don't think it would grab a reluctant reader and could make language arts feel like a chore for certain kids. And the copywork could be an issue if you haven't begun cursive.

It's found a place in our daily routine for now, and seems to be working well! 

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations Reviews}

 Crew Disclaimer

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shopping Baby Steps

I am an incredibly indecisive shopper when it comes to big purchases. Once the price creeps past a certain place, pulling the trigger is difficult.

This means that things like cars and furniture are scary to me.

And those are the two things we need right now. I'm going to need a new car, and we desperately need new furniture. We need to stop stalling, stop browsing, and make a decision. Adam wants to delegate a lot of this decision to me. It's going to be my primary car, and, as the one who does the decorating and cleaning, I should definitely be the major voice in this furniture.

And I am awful at it.

I will drive poor sales people crazy, wandering around for hours. Debating, talking, coming back and forth.

Right now, I'm close to telling Adam to just go ahead and make the decision for me. I trust you. We generally know what we want, and I promise to be thrilled with whatever decision you make. If I woke up to the new furniture purchase order or a car with a bow, I will be hugely happy about it. I promise not to have buyer's remorse.

If I have to buy it myself, I'll have buyer's remorse.

I'll second guess. I'll doubt. 

And the thing with furniture and car sale people is that they are required to be all up in your business. They have to be. Once you've been greeted, you will be kept within that sales person's eyeline for the entire visit. Even if you tell them you're just looking, or you don't need help...they hover. Like a hawk.

So now, I'm not only indecisive, I'm full of guilt.

I think I've figured out a pretty good way to deal with the car thing. It's gotten harder now that it seems like everything is open all the time, but I'm visiting car dealerships only when they're closed.

Maybe by summer, I'll be able to go through with it, talk to a sales person, and make the purchase!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

So Who Do You Listen To Anyway?

Every once in a while, usually while on Facebook, I'm so glad that my youngest child is five years old, and I'm not trying to figure out this whole baby thing in the dawn of crazy internet advice. When I was pregnant with Madison, the big thing was Baby Center or What to Expect. You joined a birth month group, or another relevant group, and that's where you got your "sounding board" advice. Sure, people argued, but they argued more "my doctor said" versus what "your doctor said". Or whether you were a Babywise Person or a Dr. Sears person. Maybe those groups migrated to Facebook, because Facebook was a little more smart phone friendly, but they stayed the same.

Was there drama? Of course. There's always drama. But still very focused.

Today? There are blogs. And memes. And groups for every sub group of parenting. You can find a study or a link or an article or a meme to back up pretty much any style of parenting or opinion. People are totally comfortable ripping strangers apart for absolutely everything. There are actual groups with the sole purpose of finding parents they don't agree with to shame them.

Now here's the thing: New moms have questions.

They have a lot of them. They were just handed a human to care for and raise. They are already paranoid that they are screwing everything up and and going to kill the baby, or, at the very least, mess them up for the rest of their lives because of something they did when the baby was four months old.

And now they are bombarded with articles from every view point spouting that if you do this or that you are definitely right and if you do the opposite you are definitely going to regret it for the rest of your life.

Should you be rear facing? Is it safe for forward face? Is it time for the booster? WHO DO YOU ASK????

Solids? Baby led weaning? Purees? Cereals?

What about the crib?

What about language?


I'm so glad I don't have a new baby right now.

I know, that's not helpful to moms who do. So when I meet a new mom, and she's totally stressed out about who to listen to and what to do, I'll steer them toward some rational sites, but then, I'll remind them that most instincts are good. You can't really trust anyone but yourself. If you're trying to be a good mom, you're probably already doing a great job.

And hey, if you want confirmation, I'm sure you can find at least one site to agree!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Finding My Dance Mom Groove

I'm now on year three of being a "dance mom", and I have to admit, I'm finally feeling like I kinda sorta know what I'm doing.

I've gotten quite good at making a bun quickly, and making that bun look stage ready.

I know how to prep for quick changes - unless it's under 10 minutes, it's not worth stressing anymore.

I've gotten good at doing eyeliner on a six year old, despite there being very few tutorials on how to do such a thing.

I know how to organize and pack the Dream Duffel. I know what to put into that Dream Duffel to accommodate most last minute requests. Extra tights? Got them. Forgot your hair net? I have ten more. Can't dig out your hairspray? Use my back up can. Did a costume rip? I have safety pins, fabric tape, fabric glue, and a sewing kit. No, seriously, it's not a problem. It all evens out in the end. If I'm scrabbling for a bobby pin, there are a few moms who will have one in my hand before I can even request it.

I know what food to pack that will get eaten, and what food will be totally ignored in the face of more tempting options.

I know how to effectively wash eyeliner and hairspray off a six year old in the span of one calm shower, rather than multiple hair washings and scrubbing eyes with makeup remover while an overtired dancer wails that you are stinging her eyes. (Seriously, kids clarifying shampoo and a makeup eraser are magic).

I know how to plan out the day, from what time we need to wake up, to what time we need to leave, to what time we need to leave if I want to stop for coffee (always), to whether or not I do hair and make up at home or at the competition, to what time we need to get there so we kind find the dressing room and set up, to how much time we have to pee and change before we are required to be stage ready. I know that my most reliable companion on these trips is my navigation system, and that all of us know that we need to "listen to the lady" when she guides us through a city that I hate driving in to a theater with questionable parking, or to a totally out of the way high school buried in a tiny town. I know when it makes more sense to use Waze, and when my old reliable Google Maps is the way to go.

I finally kind of understand how awards work, and what they mean, and how to explain them to people, from my six year old dancer, to her totally confused grandmother, to the new dance mom who is trying to figure out which of the seventeen varieties of gold is good, and if we should be excited or not.

I know that annoyances flare up when you're stressed, and it's totally tempting to vent and gossip about, but it's totally not worth holding a grudge because someone irritated you on a competition day. It's a long day, a long weekend, a long season, and if your kids end up sticking with it, it's even longer. Sure, you might have one dance BFF who you would totally trust no matter what, and yeah, there will always be that one mean mom who you just can't make yourself like because she forgot that high school ended a long time ago, but generally, the drama is just going to make things worse and having an "us and them" mentality, even if it's in your own head, is just not worth it. And when you see a mom who hasn't figured that out yet, you know that it's best to just be nice and helpful to everyone, and hopefully, she'll figure it out.

I've figured out that the "older" moms aren't as intimidating as they seemed at first, and if you ask for help, they're awesome. Sure they're tight - they've been doing this for a long time and multiple twelve hour days surrounded by hairspray fumes have a way of bonding people. But they're not a closed circle either.

Three years...and I'm kind of getting it.

And I'm realizing that, out of all the activities Madison could have possibly gravitated toward, it's one I'm actually happy to be a part of.
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