When the Planets Align, Be Prepared

Everyone is entitled to a bad day now and then, right? It’s just when eight 5 and 6 year olds decide to coordinate their bad day that moms (and tutors) seem to get into trouble, or at the very least be in for it. I believe yesterday was that day. The coordinated attack, whether it be a flash mob sort of spontaneity or a methodical, well thought out plan, was prolonged, thorough, and exhausting. The boys of my homeschool co-op class seemed to be of one mind during week 15 and their motto could have been ‘Today is a good day to die, and we’re going to take the tutor lady down with us!’

I should have seen the signs coming from when the first couple of boys arrived in class. Two of them were crossing swords about what they drew on their whiteboards during free drawing time. Before class proper begins, I have square whiteboards for the boys to draw on, partly to encourage them to practice their map drawing skills, and party to distract them from the fact that our classroom is well stocked with toys that they aren’t allowed to play with during the duration of the morning. These two boys argued about the content of the free drawing, with one contending that the other shouldn’t draw such frightening people. Usually I’m not the lone adult in the room, but yesterday it was just me and the boys for several minutes. I absentmindedly reminded them that they should always speak kindly to each other and went about the hurried preparation that usually fills up the precious few minutes between our morning leadership meeting and the opening assembly. They wholly ignored me. From their beginning talking points, they quickly moved on as other boys trickled into the room. Boy A used his black dry erase marker to create a picture of himself with Boy C, tacitly leaving Boy B out of the drawing. When Boy B asked why he wasn’t in the shot, Boy A sweetly replied, “He’s my buddy.” Wow! I took the opportunity to stop what I was doing to make a more pointed assertion about how kindness is required in my classroom. Yet, though irritating and rather unnecessary, this wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary when two or more children get together. I do have six of my own and know well how any of one them can get a burr in their boxers at any given time.

By now, almost all of the class members had arrived and it was time to line up to go down the hall for the opening morning assembly, but what’s this? A visitor and his mother arrive! Of course, on today of all days (and maybe we’ve stumbled upon the root of all the unrest?), CC is hosting an Open House to give prospective families a taste of what a day with our group can be like. Silently and fervrently praying, I plead that the past few moments are not prologue to the morning ahead. I try to welcome the boy and mom warmly while attempting to keep tabs on the boys of my class, all of whom are now wrestling to see who gets to be at the head of the line. That’s a fight I’m not even going to step into at this point, though. There are bigger issues to consider, and the one first in my mind is the trip to the sanctuary. After 14 weeks (and really, it didn’t take that long to realize), I remember that these boys equate a quiet hallway with an open pasture and just long to run through it, every single opportunity they have to do so. Despite my weekly reminder as we stand by the door, they just can’t seem to control themselves. Sometimes they make it halfway down the hall before one of them loses all vestiges of self control, and those are probably the good days. Regardless, once one of them breaks free, the rest consider that an open invitation and the remainder of the short trip from our classroom to the sanctuary ends by me trying to rush ahead of them to refrain them from bursting through the doors of the sanctuary and blowing our cover. Even so, we make it to assembly in one piece.

Our class sits in the front row, and I think the main reason for this is that our activity and fidgeting keeps the other classes both entertained and facing forward. Today’s main attraction seemed to be that all eight boys attempted to squeeze into 3 chairs, and everyone wanted to sit next to me. Still, we somehow made it through assembly with nary a scratch. Mercifully, we were dismissed first. For a description of our exit, re-read the preceding paragraph because really, it was just the same in reverse.

New memory work time, the part of the day where I introduce what the children will be memorizing and learning about at home throughout the week, was an exercise in patience to the highest degree. In our program, moms stay with their children, but sometimes they have other responsibilities which take them from their child, or they have several children and have to split their time between different rooms. At any one time in our class, though, there are usually 3-5 moms, except during the six weeks we studied the tin whistle. Strangely, each week between 10-10:30, my moms silently disappeared… (I’m kidding; they were always there to sing along with my yelling out the notes and encouraging the boys to properly place their fingers on the whistle.) This morning, the room dynamic was even more varied. Not only did we have a visitor, a lad who was considerably younger than the boys in our class, but also a dad who had come to step in for his wife and take over her duties as classroom mom. He ended up being a wonderful help, but I think at first he was intent on scoping out the scene and trying to take it all in. What he was taking in, however, were my boys scrapping on the carpet where I had asked them to sit quietly so we could go over our work.

They just could not sit still. While this is not mind-blowing news, especially if you have a couple of boys in your house, today was over the top. They touched each other (my own son was repeatedly punching another boy’s arm as the boy laughed), they touched my teaching materials and presentation board, and one even unplugged my CD player. Even before we really started, I was mortified at the thought of what the visitor mom had to be thinking. “What IS this place!? And why are these boys so crazy?!” It’s funny now, but not so much at the time.

Sometimes I wonder how much more work we could actually accomplish if I didn’t have to constantly stop and say, “OK, pay attention. Remember, eyes on me means you have to actually be facing in my direction! Please stop sticking your finger in your neighbor’s ear!” and on and on and on. At one point, after nearly losing my cool, I stuck a piece of yellow sticky tack on the tip of my nose. The boys found it on the table I use for my books and were all enamoured with trying to grab it. I figured it held their attention better than I had so far in the morning, so I attached it to my nose. This gave me at least one subject’s worth of their concentration. After I removed the tack, however, it seemed to be a lost cause all around. My helper dad seemed to have the revelation that no, it wasn’t OK for the boys to be tussling and sitting on each other when we needed to be reciting our Latin conjugations, so thankfully he jumped in to serve as crowd control. I lost more of them altogether after showing them the hand motions for two timeline cards which involved making and pointing a pistol made with their hands and then shooting it. For the rest of the new memory work they were pointing and shooting (even despite my constant reminder that pistols made with your hands don’t make noise), and at one point I had to exclaim “Holster your pistol!” to one of the boys.

After our new memory work, we moved on to art, which necessitated a trip up the stairs and–you guessed it–down another hallway. This time the boys did a little better, but mostly because we had moms and a dad strategically placed throughout the line. While we waited to go into the art room, I gently offered to the visiting mom that she was welcome to visit any class and age group that she desired to observe. Though they stayed with us for our art project, she and her son moved to the younger class afterwards for the rest of the morning. I pray they had a good experience during their visit, but never did get the chance to speak with her afterwards.

As scattered as the boys and the morning felt, the 30 minutes that we spent on our art projects was probably the most enjoyable part of our time together. It’s always so interesting to see how the boys approach the “assignment” and they each had a good time painting their landscapes and showing their artistic sides.

The time flew by, however, and the cat herding began once again. First we had to get them all together, collect their paintings, and shuffle them back downstairs.

Our schedule is regimented and so after art projects, we had a few minutes to enjoy a snack (you’d think the boys were never fed based on how often they ask when it will be snack time!) before their presentations. I was looking forward to this week’s offerings, since the boys had been assigned the task of memorizing a short joke or funny story to share with the class. My son happened to be first, and despite reciting that joke repeatedly for his family throughout the week, not only did he botch the punchline, he totally forgot it. It was humorous in and of itself. And, if you can even believe it, the next two boys in line to recite their presentations had memorized the exact same joke. How is that even possible!? Of all the jokes in all the world, two boys in my class of only 8 children who almost never have contact with each other outside of Monday co-op managed to choose the same one joke. It boggled the mind, but there it was. The rest of the recitations went off without too much of a hitch. Surprisingly, these same boys who can wake the dead when they’re supposed to walk silently down the hall have to be repeatedly reminded to speak loudly and clearly during presentation time. By all the moms. (Did I mention repeatedly?)

The weekly science experiments came next in the schedule, and I was excited because the experiments we had on tap looked like they would appeal to boys. We reviewed our science sentence for the week before beginning, showing that when the boys sat still, they were exemplifying “potential energy,” but when they were acting crazy on the blue carpet, they were showing us “kinetic energy.” Let’s just say there was a measureable amount of kinetic energy in our room throughout the morning… All through our science time, I answered the same questions over and over, and questions not necessarily related to science. “No, you can not use the scissors to cut the book.” and “Yes, I like lasagna.” were more typical of the answers I gave. We conducted one experiment to see whether a roll of masking tape, two jar lids taped together, or a marble would roll the fastest down an incline. It was a great visual until the boys wanted to try it themselves, and then it dissolved into shooting the marble and chucking the tape roll down the incline to skew the results. Laughable, really. As we cleaned up the supplies and returned them to the box, the boys started begging me to keep a marble.

“Why do we have so many in the bag?” they inquired.
“I think Mrs. S (the director) wanted to make sure we had enough in case any were lost,” I reasoned.
“Well, can we each have one?” one boy asked.
“No, guys. I’m pretty sure Mrs. S wants to find them all back in the bag at the end of the day,” is what I said. “I’m fairly certain they’d find their way into your mouth or nose and I’m not trained to fish them out,” is what I was thinking.
“What does she need 8 marbles for anyway!?” another whined.
“Do you like lasagna?” still another asked.

*Sigh*

By this time, it was 11:30 and we had roughly 30 minutes left until lunch. Cue the almost constant questions interrogating me whether it is lunchtime, when it will be lunchtime, and if we will at any time be allowed to eat lunch ever again. I think my classroom moms, at this point, would have been quite agreeable to spend the remaining time allowing the group of kinetic energy bundles continue the experiment with the paper circles and cones while we sat and maybe even assumed the fetal position. Dropping a paper circle and a paper cone repeatedly from the same height to see which one falls faster could certainly keep them occupied for a while longer, not to mention the hats they were making out of the cones. Add in some finger pistols from back at timeline cards time and you got yourself a time killer! Alas, since I’m contractually obligated to perform certain duties, one of them being review time during one 30 minute period, and since I had a potentially fun review game I was anxious to try out, we set aside our exasperation with these boys and their propensity to wander off both mentally and physically and forged ahead with the game. Based on a tip from our director, we used a Cooties game to review several weeks’ and subjects’ worth of material. I had my mom and dad helpers sit at a station with different subject flash cards and the boys, each equipped with a bug body, travelled from station to station in small groups. After answering each question, they received a piece of their bug to help assemble it. It seemed to work well in theory, although the boys really meandered here and there instead of waiting for me to tell them to switch stations. Chalking it up as par for the day, if we play the game again, I’ll go over my expectations with the boys more clearly and perhaps that will help the time to move more smoothly. It was a very effective way to keep them engaged, however. When I glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost noon, the boys didn’t want to quit their game until they completed building their Cooties. That was a ringing endorsement!

And so it ended…. Week 15 was in the books after we disassembled the bugs and returned them to the boxes. The boys scrambled to get their lunches and clambered their way to the front of the line on their way upstairs to the lunchroom. I wanted to collapse into a kid-sized chair and take a few deep breaths in the quiet. Andrew always eats lunch with his buddy upstairs and I got a report later on that he and his friend spent almost the entire lunch period playfully wrestling with each other at their table. This news did not surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was that later in the day when we listened to the history sentence while driving in the car, Andrew could sing along quite accurately. Was it possible that in between roughhousing with his friends and staring at the ceiling and perusing through the bookshelf, he was actually taking in the many pieces of information that he heard that morning? Hopefully he wasn’t the only one.

As I was talking to other moms and tutors later that day, it seemed that my class was not the only one to be wired and squirrelly. Apparently it was a campus-wide epidemic. I definitely witnessed it in Patrick’s afternoon grammar and writing class as well: the students (and the moms, really, of which I was one) were inattentive and wired. A full moon, perhaps? Could an Open House upset the flow of our group that much? Upon reflecting on it later that night–and cracking big T up with my rendition of how my morning had gone–it dawned on me. If you read my post back in October when our class tried to create a scaled down model of the planets, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I think, finally, my planets had aligned, and when the planets align, you’d better be prepared.

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A Recipe for Disaster of Cosmic Proportions

Usually my recipes are for a tasty treat. Not so for this one. In our homeschool group today, we did a fun project for science and created a model of the solar system. Let me set the scene….

I tutor a class of 8 5-6 year old boys, which in itself may scare some people away, but thankfully God gives me grace for each week. I *love* boys and know that they are growing on me; I hope I am growing on them as well. regardless, if you have a 5 or 6 year old boy, know someone who has one, or have ever been in the same room with one for more than five minutes, these characteristics should be known to you:

1. They don’t like to sit still. God has designed them (in both His infinite wisdom and certain sense of humor) to require constant movement, and asking them to sit in a chair for any length of time will frustrate them and irritate you.

2. They don’t like to keep their thoughts to themselves. Hey, some of us like to share our thoughts and feelings. When you’re 5 and 6, you MUST share your thoughts and feelings, even if it means that when a class is having a discussion about William the Conqueror, you may have to shout out “I LIKE CAKE!!!”

3. Personal space is a foreign concept to them. I used to think that every boy this age needed glasses on account of how closely they sat or huddled next to anyone or thing, but I have come to believe that they just like to be where the action is. If the action is nothing more than breathing…that’s where they’ll be. God has taught me a lot about personal space (and that I should kiss it goodbye) with my own several kids. At this point, if I can successfully sneak off to go pee by myself, I count it a major victory.

So….back to the science project. Our goal was to create a model of the solar system to scale using different sized “planets” and measuring how far each planet would be from the Sun. Each boy was a planet and a classroom mom was the Sun (at least I knew she would stay put). Using “planets” that ranged in size from a marble to a basketball, we could see in real life how large and small the 8 planets are and just how far some of them are from the Sun. Let me break it down into steps.

Step 1. Take 8 boys outside to find a wide open area large enough to create the model, with the farthest planet being something like 450 inches away from the Sun mom. Make sure it is a GORGEOUS fall day in Kentucky, complete with blue skies and warm temperatures. Schedule science project to come about 2 hours after the young fellas have had to sit and learn their new memory work and use every ounce of self-control to keep themselves from blowing their Tin Whistles until they turned blue in the face, just to ensure that wide open space + boyness will definitely = RUN AWAY into the field!

Step 2. Assign each boy a planet, i.e. a marble, golf ball, tennis ball, soccer ball, or basketball. Ask them to hold it in their hands and stand still.

Step 3. Chase anywhere from 4-8 boys at any given time back to the lineup so we can measure their distance from the Sun and finish the model.

Step 4. Measure Mercury, Venus, and Earth’s distances and have them stand not only very close to the Sun, but very close to each other. I’m positive that the lesson that the Mercury, Venus, and Earth boys took home today was that those three planets do not like orbiting so close to each other and would just as soon shove another out of orbit and cause him to go hurtling into space.

Step 5. Try to get the golf ball sized planet boy to understand that golf balls, though they may look like they can fit in someone’s mouth, actually cannot.

Step 6. Reset Mercury, Venus, and Earth planets because they have decided to shuffle around.

Step 7. Send 1-2 classroom moms to go get the Soccer ball planet and the boys who think Saturn should be kicked down the hill.

Step 8. Console Saturn when everyone wants to have his ball, but he doesn’t want to give it up.

Step 9. Holler at Mercury, Venus, and Earth because they are once again out of orbit.

Step 10. Realize that Saturn is not ever going to orbit this Sun. Leave Saturn’s place blank.

Step 11. See that Mars is wandering around and looking in the very dry grass because he dropped his marble. (He wasn’t the only one who lost his marbles during this project!!) Try in vain to assure Mars that the lost marble is not that big of a deal and he can still partake in the remainder of the model.

Step 12. Somehow get about 6 out of 8 planets in line at the same time. Talk BRIEFLY about how planets not only rotate but also revolve. Yank golf ball out of Earth’s mouth. Collect all balls (except marble, which has been tragically lost forever). Have boys line up to go back inside after pulling them off of each other in a spontaneous wrestling match.

Somehow we made it back into the room. Maybe someday when these boys are studying the planets at another time, they will recall even one detail from the model we made today in the field. It may even make sense to them when they think about it later on.

Or…maybe they will just ponder whether a golf ball really could fit into their mouths.

I love my job.

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