Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

While my poor husband has had to work all weekend, I have been fortunate enough to be home with my girls for the past five days, and we have had a pretty busy weekend! Yesterday was our Memorial Day celebration, with my eldest daughter marching in the town's annual parade with her Girl Scout troop, and my youngest and I camped out in front of the town hall watching the parade. This is the 5th time my girl has marched in this particular parade (in her 10 short years!). I thought this year's was the best that I've seen -- some years it feels VERY long and there are an inordinate number of regular cars driving through with politicians' signs followed by politicians walking behind. This year there were just a few of those, more marching bands, which was nice -- and they were really quite good! And while I always see some nice moments honoring veterans, I got a different feeling from it this year. There was a car driven by a veteran that stopped a few yards from us and the driver (in his uniform) got out of the car in the middle of the parade to walk over and salute another veteran who was watching from the side of the parade route. It was very touching!

It was just my little girlie and I watching this year, and she was wonderfully well-behaved! She sat on my lap for most of the parade, and I took the opportunity to tell her as much as I knew about every group that walked by. We talked about the national anthem and how everyone stands to show respect while it is being performed. And I learned something myself at this parade. While one of the fire companies was coming through in their trucks, someone near us yelled to a driver to have them blow their horn (which I had worried about, because my girl does NOT like loud noises!) and the driver said, "Not at this parade - this is a quiet parade." And I thought about that and realized that while I pull out all of the flags and red, white & blue for both Memorial Day and 4th of July, and I generally have a similar feeling about both holidays -- patriotism, honoring our military, honoring our country -- these are very different holidays. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on those serving our country and those who have been lost while serving to protect us. And the 4th of July is still a time for reflection and patriotism and honoring our country and our military, but it's a celebration of the birth of our country and that's the time for fireworks and parties. I'll have to make sure that my girls understand the difference.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paper Chain American Flag Craft

In preparation for Memorial Day (tomorrow), Flag Day (in June) and the 4th of July, my girls and I spent some time yesterday working on a cute and fun American flag craft. I actually got this idea walking out of work last week -- I work at an agency that provides services for individuals with developmental disabilities -- one of the groups in day services created an American flag out of paper chains and had it hanging in the window. I thought it was so great that I took the girls out the next day to buy paper and glue sticks so that we could make our own!

Here's what you will need:

- Red, white and blue construction paper (I got a huge pack of multi-colored paper from Walmart for about $4.00)
- Glue sticks
- Scissors
- Tape
- Little helping hands (if they are willing!)

Start by holding the paper horizontally and cutting it into 1" wide strips. Then, start making the paper chain -- put some glue on one end of a strip of paper and glue it to the opposite end to form a circle. Then put another strip of paper through the first circle and glue the end into a circle. Follow that process to complete your chain.

To complete a flag like mine (although you can adjust the number of links to suit the size you want), you will need:

- 4 chains of 6 blue links and 7 red links in each chain
- 3 chains of 6 blue links and 7 white links in each chain
- 3 chains of red with 13 links in each chain
- 3 chains of white with 13 links in each chain

Once you have all of your paper chains put together, you are ready to hang them on a window! I made sure to look at an actual flag so that I would have the right number and order of stripes! I ended up putting a piece of clear tape through each of the "flat" loops in the chain to tape them to the windows. It took a little bit of time, but it looks super cute! (Although -- please do not be like me and hang it so that it is facing the right way INSIDE the house... Apparently it looks like a distress signal on the outside... Guess what I'll be doing later!)

This was a great, easy craft project that both of my girls enjoyed doing. The chains were so easy to make that my 10-year-old made a rainbow chain that she draped upstairs in her bedroom, and the girls want us to make paper chains for the Christmas tree this year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Preschool to Kindergarten

This is our last year in preschool. We have loved it and have had close to 4 wonderful years at this school – two with our eldest daughter, and now we are finishing up the 2nd year with our youngest. I was struggling with the thought of my baby going off to kindergarten next year – I always joke with her that I want to shrink her down and carry her around in my pocket. She loves that and tells me, “Shrink me, shrink me!”

Back in January, we received an assessment from her preschool teacher. We were quite taken aback at the results of that assessment and the ensuing conversations with her teacher. Our girlie, who is (to us) completely wonderful, bright, and witty received less than favorable scores and her preschool teacher recommends that we hold her back for another year instead of sending her to kindergarten. This was a total shock to us. Her older sister has never had problems in school and brings home fantastic report cards and test scores. She attended the same preschool and had the same teacher, but this was six years ago, before the school began doing assessments – it would be interesting to be able to compare their preschool assessments to see what the differences are. Obviously, they are two different people with different personalities, but some of the things that my girl scored poorly on left me scratching my head in confusion. My husband and I felt like, “What is the matter with us? We would never have thought that we needed to teach her that!” Specifically, one of those issues was “alternating feet when walking up and down the stairs.” It’s a developmental thing, and apparently something that they look for to see if kids are developing properly – we never would have ever thought anything of that if it had not shown up on this assessment. I am sure that this was not something that we taught our eldest daughter – it would have been interesting to see if she would not have met standards in this area too.

We have been working on these things (and more) with our girl and we thought we had seen a lot of improvement. The preschool teacher had originally said that she would do a second assessment, but later told us that she had seen "no marked improvement" and wouldn't be doing that. That was followed by another discussion where she strongly suggested that we give our daughter "a gift" and hold her back. She said it would be the best thing we could do for her. She also said that she felt our girl had low self-esteem, often saying "I can't do it" when asked to do something at school. It was difficult to hear one thing from the teacher and feel something entirely different from our personal experience with our child. For most people that know our younger daughter, low self-esteem is not at all in the list of adjectives that they would use to describe her. She's a confident kid -- she knows what she wants, she'll tell you, and she'll also call you on your own behavior/actions if she feels that it's not right. (Grandpa says she'll be a great supervisor later in life!) In fact, this was another thing to consider -- is it that she can't do the work or that she has no interest in it? She'd rather play, certainly. But is that the issue? She has (what we think is) a great vocabulary for her age. She is wonderful socially -- that was actually one area on which the preschool teacher praised her.

It was hard to separate our personal bias as parents and try to make the right decision for our girl. Would it be so bad to hold her back? No, not necessarily. But what if she really didn't need that extra year -- what if she were bored attending preschool again. How would she feel entering the 4's class as a 5-year-old? How would she feel being a grade behind her cousin who is only a month older than her?

We had discussion upon discussion (my husband and I) about what to do -- friends and family encouraged us to get another assessment, we spoke with our doctor who felt that our girl was doing just fine developmentally. When we mentioned that she was struggling a little with writing her name (which is 9 letters long -- she does the first 3 with ease), the doctor said, "Well, her name isn't LISA. It's pretty long to learn and remember!" We called and spoke to the principal of the elementary school (who knows us from our eldest daughter attending for the past 4 years) and she was encouraging by telling us that it is their job as educators to make sure that our child is successful in school. She assured us that if we or they felt that our child needed help academically, they would provide her with the tools to be successful. This all helped reassure us that kindergarten was the way to go this next year. The final deciding factor? We took our daughter to have her eyes checked. The Lions Club had come into her school and they voluntarily tested the kids' vision. They sent home a note saying, "have your child's eyes checked again." We thought perhaps she wasn't cooperating, perhaps she was distracted. Our doctor's office referred us to an eye doctor and my husband and I took her to her appointment. We mentioned the assessment to the eye doctor and mentioned that we were wondering if perhaps her eyesight could be affecting her school work. After a trying time with the doctor's assistant -- her seeming very crabby and put out that we were somehow wasting her time -- our girl was hardly answering any of her questions -- the eye doctor examined her and told us that she has a good deal of astigmatism and she needs glasses. This was quite a surprise to us, and I asked, "Does she need to wear them all the time?" The doctor said, "It will be such a difference that she'll WANT to wear them all the time. It will be like, 'Oh, hello world!'" We left his office and picked out a pair of pretty pink frames and we waited for a week for her glasses to come in. The doctor was right -- at her young age, she adapted to them immediately. She puts them on first thing in the morning, she takes them off at night and puts them on her nightstand. And they seem to have really made a difference to her in every day life and in school.

Recently, my husband was assisting at school and while he was helping out in the other room, the teacher had each child go up to the board individually and write their name and draw a person. Both of these have been issues for our girl. My husband did not see this, but the teacher told him later that when she called our daughter up and told her what she needed to do (name and person), our girl thought about it for a second, then went over to the attendance board and grabbed her card with her name, carried it over to the board and used it to help her spell her name! She wrote her name on the board and she drew a stick figure person, just like the teacher had requested! The teacher was very impressed -- and so were we! I overheard the teacher telling another teacher at the school that our daughter had really improved. It's been a trying few months, but we are happy that we kept working with her, kept advocating for her, and tried to consider every possibility to make the right decision for her and to give her every opportunity to move along to kindergarten.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Volunteering at School

This past Saturday I hosted the carnival at my daughter's preschool. It has been a whirlwind of preparations, a whirlwind of an event, and a whirlwind of emotions. As I may have mentioned before, our preschool is a cooperative preschool that requires and depends on parent volunteers to keep the school running. In the four years that we have had children in this school, my husband has always assisted in the classroom (a few times a month) and I have always worked on a committee. This was my 3rd year (1 year with my elder daughter, 2 with my younger) as the Family Events Chairperson, and by the time the carnival rolls around each year, I am READY TO BE DONE! There are four events during the school year, board meetings to attend every other month, and a committee to organize. On top of working four days a week, taking care of the kids and the house, it gets to be tiring. But then I get through the carnival, the school year winds down, the summer break begins, and it's almost like childbirth -- you forget the pain once it's over and you are ready and willing to have another one! ;)

But this is different -- this was my last event and this year is our last at this preschool. We had two daughters go through this school -- we have a lot of great memories, and we've made lifelong friends. This year has been a little trying for us (I'm still working on that post...) and so more than ever I've been looking forward to the end of this school year and the end of the family event season. But the night before the carnival (after I hung my rosary in the tree for good weather!) as I was falling asleep I thought that I wanted to make sure and take everything in. I told myself to put aside all of the frustrations of the year, all of the stress of the carnival planning, and just appreciate that this is it -- the last year of preschool, the last carnival.

Easier said than done, unfortunately! I had the best intentions of really taking time to actually watch my "baby" at her last carnival -- I ended up doing face painting the entire time with my friend Kristin, and neither of us could come up for air! I had brought my girl with me to help set up, so I was able to take pictures and video of her in the bounce house before everyone else showed up, and I was able to spend a little time while I painted her face -- once with a kitty face (first of the day -- not great...) and the other with a pink fairy "flourish" along the side of her face -- better! Her sister, her dad and her Uncle Mark were all at the carnival, so I at least took comfort in knowing that she had other family members around to watch her and help out.

I found myself surprisingly emotional at the end of the day -- all of a sudden, the last event was over -- my baby is that much closer to turning 5, that much closer to kindergarten. The stress of the Family Events job is not quite over -- I still have to organize the big binder and turn it in for next year's chair. And while this is done, I have another volunteer job for my eldest daughter's school -- two actually! It occurred to me that I am one of the room parents, and it will be time to organize the parents to bring in items for the end of the year party. And this Friday, my friend Christine and I will be spending the day at the middle school teaching the kids how to churn butter for their pioneer day!

People sometimes tease me about volunteering for too much, and I sometimes think that I really need to stop saying "yes" to everything. But it's a wonderful experience to be involved with my children's schools, even if it's just in a small capacity (like room parent). And another thing that makes it worth it? Having my 10-year-old say to me, completely out of the blue the other day, "Mommy, I know you're busy, but it's really great that you sign up to do things at our schools to make us happy!" That right there would make me host another carnival! :)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day - 2011

My girls are tucked into bed after a busy Mother's Day! They let me sleep in this morning (yay!) and woke me up with cards and their traditional breakfast in bed. I always love it, no matter what they make, but I must say that as they get older the menu improves! ;) This morning it was cereal with a cut-up banana, a bagel and a glass of orange juice. Daddy had gotten up early and ran to the store for donuts, so they had a donut for breakfast but my littlest daughter sat next to me eyeing my breakfast and I was happy to share! I enjoyed visiting with my mom (who lives in Florida) on the phone, and then we were up and out in the yard planting all of the wonderful plants that my family let me pick out at the garden store the day before! The plants were part of my Mother's Day gift -- the other big part was my husband planting them! He's not an enthusiastic gardener, but we all worked together -- he and I digging and planting, and the girls were the waterers with their buckets filled with water.

Then after cleaning up, we were off to my aunt's house to have a bbq with the family and to visit with my grandmother. We got home in time for a quick bath for my little one while my 10-year-old wrote a bedtime story for her little sister, called "A Tea Party." We called and wished Grammy (my mother-in-law) a happy Mother's Day and then I read the story to the girls and tucked them into bed. Our celebration continues tomorrow -- I have the afternoon off to join my 4-year-old in her preschool class for their special Mother's Day celebration -- I can't wait!

I hope you enjoyed your Mother's Day, too!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cute Kitty!

My little one is totally obsessed with cats these days. They are her favorite animal and she loves to pretend that she herself is a kitty cat. She is constantly meowing and purring (very realistically, I might add) and crawling around on the floor. She also likes to lie on her back and bat at things with her "paws." This morning after breakfast, she slipped on the tile floor and fell on her little behind. I said, "Oh Sweetie! Are you ok?" And she said, "I'm ok, I fell on my cat tail!"