April 19, 2006

Hair Conditioner vs. Lucy and Ricky

At five, Jessica is finally developing a sense of modesty. I think the days of my helping her out when she showers are at an end.

This is good news. As an infant, Jessica went into hysterics whenever she felt water on her face. Just as she outgrew that phobia, her hair became long enough to tangle.

Tangles in Jessica's hair were such a large part of our family life that Camille actually began naming them—the tangles—after characters from I Love Lucy. To this day, if Jessica feels a pull over her left parietal lobe, she'll say menacingly, "Watch it, Ethel!"

I've always been short-haired, so I had no experience with snarls. After years of struggling quietly, I finally appealed to Camille for guidance and learned how to remove tangles from Jessica's hair. Since I'll probably forget soon, I record this for posterity.

  1. Let the child wet her own hair. She will take too long and concoct Gordian knots on her head.

  2. Help the child shampoo.

  3. Let the child rinse. Generally I pull out a book and let her play a bit at this point.

  4. Apply conditioner. I used to think of conditioner as some alchemical potion that gives hair "body" and "luster." Camille taught me it's a simple lubricant, like WD-40 or vegetable oil. Conditioned tangles slide apart easily. Camille suggested that I needed to condition only the hair hanging down Jessica's back, but I take no chances and coat her whole head.

  5. The child can bathe while the conditioner soaks in.

  6. Starting at the bottom, brush her hair downward. This means that for the first few strokes of the brush, I fix only the tangles at the bottom of the hair. Once they are cleared out, move up an inch, and repeat. If the child's hair is long enough, you can also grip the middle of it tightly in one hand so that even if tangles exist at the end, the child will not feel the pulling.

  7. Be careful not to brush too hard against the child's scalp. (I wrongly assumed for months that Jessica was complaining about hair pulls from tangles, when actually I was scraping her scalp with the bristles.)

  8. Brush her hair under the shower stream until the conditioner is mostly rinsed out.

In short, my answer is chemical warfare: in the battle against tangles, conditioner is my weapon.

April 11, 2006

Funny Moment at Church

Another homeschooling father recently described his daughter's reminding a priest of the role of Mary in salvation history.

His story brought to mind something Jessica said once.

We encourage our kids to pay attention to the Gospel readings, and (most of the time) Camille even prepares them in advance.

Once we were attending Mass in the chancel of a Benedictine monastery--very close quarters. The reading was Matthew's Infancy Narrative.

Jessica sat quietly until Herod's line, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." At that point she couldn't contain her excitement and hissed audibly, "He's lying. He wants to kill Jesus!"

The reader only paused a moment to compose himself, but there was laughter in everyone's eyes.

April 10, 2006

Make Your Own Educational Map

[This post is out-of-date. The growth in online maps in the past couple of years has been staggering. If you are interested in customizing maps for educational use, I recommend the My Maps feature in Google Maps. And make your maps public, so the rest of us can use them, too!]

I've recently created a website that I want to share with other homeschoolers. It's here (www.kids.criticalmap.com).

When I first saw Google's online maps over a year ago, I thought they would be useful in education. I pictured some kind of website where parent-teachers and students could mark up an electronic map with whatever they were studying.

The map would be on a website, so students could see it and manipulate it from anywhere. The map would store their notes and let other people view them. Students could change it at any time. Also they could send to friends or to Grandma an email that linked to their map.

Since the maps are zoomable, they could do anything from labeling the countries that provided components for the International Space Station, to tracking troop placements at Barrett's Farm and South Bridge during the Battle of Concord.

Now the site is up. It's free and anonymous. (I don't like posting children's names on the Internet.)

So create some maps with your children, and let me know what you think.

Feel free to invite anyone else to try it out as well. (I even have a couple of public school teachers interested. . . . )

April 06, 2006

Anthropomorphic Melodrama

Jessica, almost six, is currently struggling with "greater than," "less than," and "equals."

A number line runs the length of our kitchen ceiling. Block towers of different heights form a miniature metropolis on our table. Trains with different numbers of cars provide mass-transit. We divide and count our peas at supper. We haven't actually built a balance scale yet, but I'm planning one!

It's possible that Jessica's just not ready for this: that some uncrossed threshold of cognitive development precludes her comparing quantities in her head.

But do we give up?

This morning when Camille and Jessica started comparing quantities, Jessica, again, glazed over, became distracted, and answered at random, scrutinizing Camille's face for hints without actually thinking about the problems.

Then, out of the blue and on her own, Jessica forged a new path towards understanding: "Are the big numbers proud of how big they are?"

Camille calls this the "anthropomorphic melodrama" approach to pedagogy. Numbers have feelings, just like people, so any math problem has the potential to become a soap opera. We try not to turn all of Jessica's lessons into emotional allegories, really. But this time, desperate for a new approach, Camille ran with it.

"Yes, the big numbers are very proud that they're so big. They're the ones over here."

"And the little numbers are sad? Because they want to be big, too?" Jessica pointed to the left end of the number line.

"That's right, the little ones are sad."

Shamelessly, I pitched in. "Sometimes the big ones can be mean, and they tease the little ones."

"We're big [pointing to the right], and you're not [pointing to the left]," Jessica said, tormenting the little numbers in her pretend voice.

"Oh, no," Camille said. "The little ones are starting to cry."

Were we teaching math? Teaching gender stereotypes? (Nathaniel's numbers don't cry, after all). Both?

I don't know. . . . but she was starting to get it!