4 posts categorized "Learning"

Summer Reading Program: choose the coupons!

August 01, 2010

As with past summers, Multnomah County Library hosts the Summer Reading Program at a branch near you. Kids sign up and receive a game board, where each session of reading (or being read to) equates to a marked-off space along the path.  There are three segments along the path, and when you reach one of three milestones, you can bring your game board into the library for a stamp and a prize.

... a *PRIZE*.  The prize box contains a dizzying array of brightly-colored knicks and knacks, perhaps a paper accordion fan, a shiny metallic bead necklace, a deck of miniature playing cards, a shoe-shaped key chain.  Sift through those wonderful prizes, and you will also come upon a tupperware of coupons, admittedly less shiny and bright.  The treasures within that coupon box include: a free pastry/cinnamon roll at Grand Central Bakery, a pair of free tickets to the Portland Youth Philharmonic, a free bambino scoop at Mio Gelato, buy-one-get-one admission at the Children's Museum, a free skate and rental at Lloyd Center Ice, and plenty of other goodies.  

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What we learned in a cooking lesson: Soup every way

March 07, 2010

Making_cabbage_soup
A nice mama took me up on my offer from the post about Jamie Oliver, and came over Thursday for a cooking lesson. While I'd quizzed her on likes and dislikes before she came (no mushrooms, she said, and her husband wasn't an onion fan), we hadn't really talked about what she wanted to learn. "I feel overwhelmed," she said, with a 14-month-old in the kitchen and a tight budget. "How do people just always have what they need on hand?"

We quickly realized that she didn't need help figuring out how to dice and peel and saute: she needed to be released from the stress of a recipe. She's one of those people (on the other end of the spectrum of home cooks than I) who must absolutely put two teaspoons of thyme into a recipe if it calls for two teaspoons of thyme, and if she can't find thyme or if it's very expensive or if she gets home and realizes she has, after all, no balsamic vinegar (just cider), or whatever: she panics.

What she needed, I said, was to cook without a recipe at all. Just a process. That would save her from the planning, list-making, recipe-checking, budget-busting stress. She could just buy whatever she saw that was in season and inexpensive (or whatever was growing in her garden, arrived in her CSA box, or her mom had given her), and use the process to make it fit.

We made one thing: a cabbage black bean chili, in which I used the beans from the recipe I included in the first post, and I stressed throughout our time that weren't going to talk about quantities or requirements, just procedures, categories and maximums, and ways she could fit this process into her own family's life. One piece of advice I gave her was, I thought, universally useful, and that is to figure out what are your favorite and most versatile spices, and become comfortable enough with them so you'll always know how much to use. Mine are cumin, smoked paprika, dried chiles, cloves, nutmeg and allspice; other good standbys could include ginger, dry mustard, star anise, thyme, dill, cinnamon and cayenne or chipotle pepper. You could only have two or three (cumin and thyme and some sort of pepper, for instance) and still manage to make good food no matter what, I think. Buy the spices in bulk (Limbo has a fantastic fresh spice and herb aisle; many other neighborhoods sport their own super spice sources) and you'll save money and ensure freshness.

Below is the process for bean soup I used. This is an endlessly great way to make soups, and could be vegetarian, vegan, or thoroughly meaty-creamy, depending on which options you picked. The one we made was delicious! And though I'll probably never make it exactly like that again, I'm sure we'll make many more great soups in our day that will best even that.

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Kindergarten roundups: The big giant fat decision

January 26, 2010

Kindergarden
An urbanPapa friend and I engaged in a lively philosophical debate via chat yesterday evening while I should have been cooking dinner. At issue, the looming opening of school choice transfer applications for kindergarteners -- this Friday, January 29, at 8 a.m. schools throughout the district will begin accepting them, as well as registration forms for neighborhood kindergarteners. Should he apply for transfer, or just accept the fate his home purchase a decade or more ago had set for him?

I told him I thought Atkinson, his neighborhood choice, was a good one; he wondered about the test scores there, which were not what you'd call a "home run." Atkinson got a grade of "satisfactory" in the District's report cards [pdf link] (you can find other Oregon district report cards, with data on individual schools, here.) He asked what was partly a rhetorical question: "do test scores matter?" 

My perspective was this: test scores are a snapshot that tells you how well third, fourth and fifth graders in your district take tests. It has much to do with demographics; students who are minorities typically do worse, as do those for whom English is a second language. Yes, we know this, he said, but white students in Atkinson weren't doing great, either. This, I said, was again a snapshot of demographics; poorer students do worse, on average. This tells you nothing more than "the majority students in my school are not, on average, students with the high level of parent involvement that guarantees better results on standardized tests." It is not a reflection, I said, on teacher competence or whether or not your child will thrive there. It's just a demographic snapshot. Unless your neighborhood school is a war zone (I'm not saying we don't have any of those in Portland, just unless), your risk of a bad educational experience is equally great at a great neighborhood school, a poor neighborhood school, a charter school, or a private school.

Roundup_kindergarten Sidebar: Kindergarten roundups [pdf link] actually started last week: you've missed the dates for Arleta and Ainsworth -- sorry! Atkinson was this morning at 9:30 a.m., but has another at 6 p.m. Feb 4. Astor is tonight at 6:30 p.m. Forest Park and Rieke are tomorrow at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. The rest start next week. If you decide you love a school other than your neighborhood school, you must list it as first choice to have a chance in the lottery. Also: if there is choice between half-day and full-day kindergarten in your school, you will want to turn your application in right at 8 a.m. if you want the full-day option; they fill up fast. We have a growing resource in our schools forum, which provides at least a little information and a chance to connect with parents for each school in the PPS, many private schools, and those from some surrounding suburbs and towns. Last year, we talked about kindergarten roundups and school choice, although most of the comments there do pertain strictly to 2009.

He countered, saying, "there is no question that educational reputation affects people's lives. I can't say it affects whether they are happy, but it does affect what kind of jobs they get. For example, top competitive positions at corps and in government are filled predominantly by people from about 5 or 10 universities. Ivy League plus a few others. Shouldn't I give him that opportunity if it's there for me?" He acknowledged that stating this was a departure for him; he'd just as soon give a screed on how owning land should be illegal.

Yes, I said, but there are so many unknowns for a kindergartener, and the test results of kids who are now in fourth grade -- who won't interact with your son at all -- are hardly likely to influence this much.

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Outside time, all the time?

May 03, 2009

As I type this, my two older boys run around outside in our (blessedly) big back yard. The youngest was outside, too, until naptime overtook him with a thunderstorm of neediness. Everett asks, "could you bring me something to eat out here?" and I unhesitatingly say, sure.

I've just been reading this about a U.K. preschool whose students spend nearly every moment out-of-doors. And I've been "studying" my kids' behavior and finding an unsurprising result: the more time outside, running, jumping, digging, collecting worms, fighting all those bad guys who seem to inhabit our block, or just lying in the dirt with a serious expression and a dump truck; the happier everyone is. Everett's therapist asks, "what do good days look like?" My answer is "plenty of intense outdoors play" and I immediately wonder what I'm doing with him in public school at all.

Everett_monroe_backride

For a lot of complicated reasons, I've been considering home schooling him. With what will I fill his days? I wonder, imagining dozens of mini-power struggles over adjective worksheets. And then discarding all that wonder with the thought that maybe, we'll just have math, reading and outside time. Lots, and lots, of outside time.

Out there, we have a hundred lessons in science, math, social studies, vocabulary, agriculture; it's the Green Hour supercharged. I wonder if we'll have enough for him to build the skills in which he's lagging while at the same time protecting him from the often too-stressful, too-troubled environment of the school he's attending. Unschoolers have already been convinced, I know. For those of you who do homeschool, unschool, free school, or some variant thereof -- even just for preschool -- tell me how you've balanced "curriculum" and teaching children the parts of speech, multiplication tables, and all that with a sufficient amount of outside time. Have any of you considered changing your child's schooling to allow more time outside? How has the thought process gone for you? Have you tried it and gone back to the way of the formal schoolroom? Have you just longed for more untrammeled running, free-range kid raising time? I'd love to hear your thoughts!