Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning with Katie

"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do."

- Galileo Galilei

The universe is a beautiful, mysterious, captivating place, and I love this Galileo quote because it reminds me first of the interconnectedness of all things and then of the ways in which bigness and smallness often cohabit a single act---such as the sun shining.

This week Katie has been interested in our solar system. We have a picture encyclopedia for children about the universe, and she has been asking to look at it. I taught her the "Planet Song," and so she can now name the planets in order and knows where the Astroid Belt is. We talked about the demotion of Pluto. She knows that Mars is "the red planet" and she was amazed to hear that Jupiter has 63 moons. She calls Jupiter a "moon hog!"

We've been showing her bits of a National Geographic production featuring pictures of space, and we've been trying to teach her about scale: we live in Katie's house, in Temecula, in Riverside County, in the state of California...etc...all the way up to our solar system, the Milky Way, and the universe. We hung up a huge poster of all the planets on the downstairs bathroom door so that we can look at them and talk about them as we walk by.

Today we mixed the learning with play---isn't learning always a little like play? After music class we came home, opened a new box of sidewalk chalk, and, after drawing many other pictures, we drew a really large version of the solar system on the concrete in our sideyard (I think the previous owners had an RV there, so there is much space).

Katie is so physical and loves to practice jumping, so we sang our Planet Song as we jumped from planet to planet. We made up a little dance for the part where we stand on the Astroid Belt for a few beats. I challenged by saying things like, "Can you jump all the way from Jupiter's spot to Saturn's rings?" That kind of challenge always energizes her.

I love teaching her, and I love teaching in general. It is my passion. I love watching Katie learn and guiding her through her interests.

Bill has also been working to cement her directional abilities this week, with review of "right" and "left." Last night she wanted to hold my right hand for a moment, so she asked if I could hand her a piece of strawberry "with your left hand." I was a little surprised. In addition to Bill working with her on handedness and direction, I also try to use the "right" and "left" cues as we talk about what we see on our walks.

Katie has also made progress with using the restroom now outside of the house. She is trained in the house and only wears a diaper for sleeping now, but I have been a little bit personally nervous about how I would help her fare outside of the house, since planning around clean restrooms can be tricky for parents. Today we planned an experiment: all the way to music class and back. She met the challenge succesfully, and it helped that we were already familiar with the clean restroom at music class. I was so proud of her. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself, but two parents gave me another tip: have one of the portable toddler potty chairs in the car for long trips. I will definitely be enacting that idea right away. I am so thankful that we are continuing to make progress in this area. It has been one of my goals for us as a family that we be well on our way to having Katie out of diapers by the time Eric is born.

Dance class continued this week, and we had a trial class with SCEGA gymnastics yesterday. I was very impressed with the access to equipment, the student-teacher ratio, and the monthly tuition. The facility trains both competitive and non-competitive gymnasts, so there is an inherent structure and professionalism that I find appealing. Katie loved her class yesterday! She used a bar, parallel bars, rings, a very low vault, a horse, balance beams...and more. When our teacher helped her do a bar flip, Katie squealed, "This is fun!!!" She had a huge smile on her face the whole time, and even though we have been on a gymnastics hiatus for three weeks while we researched programs in the area, she did not appear to forget her skills. In fact, she seemed to have made improvements, somersaulting and balancing (on the lower beams) on her own. We signed up for a weekly class, but we have the option of going twice a week if Katie really loves it.

Bill has been a great source of guidance in this area, as he very much views athletic development as part of a rensaissance education. His older daughter was a competitive swimmer for years, and he wants to give Katie the same structure and opportunity for excellence in a sport. We want her to learn body control and precision, and we also think she will benefit from being around other children who are disciplined as she is and make goal-setting a practice. So we are thrilled that she has a genuine enthusiasm for gymnastics, and we consider ourselves lucky in many ways to have been able to identify it early almost through circumstance---similar to the ways my parents identified my brother's musical talent early because of a couple of coincidences and a helpful teacher (Mr. Aamodt). If she ever wants to pursue something else, of course, we will help her do that. I just think Bill and I are made more excited by seeing how excited she is at this point.

Her other interests this week continued to be the story of The Odyssey (in particular the Polyphemus episode still), Beauty and the Beast, the letter "C" (our alphabet book and work is going well), blue toenail polish (totally her own choice and I think she has the right to express herself that way), weddings (Uncle David's is coming up tomorrow), going for walks, and feeding Tuna Cat!