30 August, 2010

What's In Your Backyard?

Our family of five has been living in a (teeny-weeny) flat for almost two years now. Before we moved, we lived in a large house in the country, with plenty of room to roam around outside. 

When we first moved into our current place, my husband and I told the kids that even though our (eensy, weensy) apartment does not have a backyard, our town does. In fact, South Florida has a very big backyard. (1.5 million acres to be exact!)

It is called the Everglades. Basically, it is a great, grassy river whose ecosystem plays hosts to some of the most fascinating plants and animals in the world...Critters including alligators, crocodiles, panthers, and a venomous water snake nicknamed the "Cottonmouth". 

Recently, we took the kids out in this backyard of ours. The following photos are some of the less formidable residents of the "River of Grass". 

Great White Egret
Marsh Rabbit
Large-Mouth Bass
 What's In Your Backyard?  
 Please send me a photo of you and your family enjoying your town's "backyard". I am gathering photos that will be featured in an upcoming "Get Out" article. 
You can email the photos to me at kristydisch@gmail.com

Click here to find out more about the Everglades ecosystem.

Click here to find out about the Everglades Restoration Plan.

27 August, 2010

Caught Ya'

This little device has been keeping my kids busy every afternoon. For hours on end, the kids have been outside playing with this thing. Basically, it is a box with a screen on top. It is a "Bug Box". We made these last weekend courtesy of the Home Depot.

All week long, I have found the kids stealthily sneaking among the grasslands, like lions on the hunt. Antelope aren't what they're searching for. It's been lizards, beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and this little guy in the photo. A slug. We got kind of attached to him. Who knew that something the consistency of boogers could be so darn cute?

Want to keep the kids occupied this weekend? Try giving them a box. Or make one of these. Just don't get too grossed out when you open the lid. The blob of amorphous larvae my 5 year old found was just a little too much for me.

25 August, 2010


Dancing in the Rain
So what if it drizzles
And dribbles and drips?
I'll splash in the garden,
I'll dance on the roof.

Let it rain on my skin,
It can't get in-
I'm waterproof.
Shel Silverstein

Falling Up 

24 August, 2010

Too Many. Too Bad.

I cried yesterday when I dropped my child off at her classroom at our local public school. I know, tears are just part of the first day of school. All of those emotions. Your little one going off into the big world. It's a big day. True, but that wasn't exactly the reason that I was crying.

Picture this. A classroom approximately the size of an apartment's living room. Teacher's desk in the corner. Chalk board. Bulletin board greets us. WELCOME it says with a printout of the class roster. Two printed pages are taped together. (This should have clued me in)

Nine tables of 4 students each are wedged into this space like french fries in a fast food container. As parents walk their children to their desks, mouths drop, agape. There are how many children in this classroom? 

Good morning, Mrs. I say to my child's teacher.  
How many students are in your class this year? I ask her. 
There are 36 students in here until they give me some more. She answers me with a placating smile. 
I don't return the smile.
That is not an acceptable number, I say. 
She shrugs and tells me that it is that way in all the grades and smiles again. Her demeanor tells me this:
Sure, there are too many. Too bad.
I tear up this time and walk away in frustration. 

I walked  marched downstairs to the school office. I had to push my way past the throng at the door. There were more tears in that place. And screaming. And it wasn't the children. It was the outraged parents and the overwhelmed office staff this time. More shrugs. More tears. More frustration. 

This morning, I went to the school office again. This time it was to withdraw my child from this public school. How will you be educating your child? The nice lady in the office asked me as she filled out the with-drawl form.
At home, I said. Tearing up again.

20 August, 2010


It is that time of year again. It's Back to School time. 

It's time to buy your kids really hip new clothes, shiny new notebooks, brand new sneakers, and enroll them in at least 5 after-school enrichment programs. Am I right?

Maybe not. School is all about helping parents educate their children. Once these children begin school, they become students. Students have one primary task: getting an education. Parents have a very important task too: making sure that their children are getting this education

In this symbiotic relationship, schools help parents and parents help students, thus helping schools.That is how it is supposed to work anyway. Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim, sisters and co-authors of the book Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers- and How You Can Too, state the following:

Non-Asian children often equate the final ring of the school bell with freedom from learning and education. Therein lies the difference between many Asian children and their peers. Many non-Asian children view their roles in the classroom and at home very differently. Unfortunately, many children are not taught that the role of student is one to be assumed during and after school hours...

Asian parents do several things that allow their children to embrace the role of student:
  • They manage their children's time outside of school.
  • They assume the role of educator after school hours.
  • They teach their children that being a student is both fun and rewarding (with the help of their children's educators).
  • They have a genuine respect for educators. (1)

If this is what Asian-American parents are doing, they are doing something right. In June, the Center on Education Policy found that as a group, Asian-American students were the highest performing "racial/ethnic sub-group" in both math and reading in the 4th and 8th grades.(2)

Managing your child's time outside of school,
becoming involved in your child's education at home and at school, respecting your child's teachers and school and emphasizing the importance of your child's role as student will benefit you, your child, and your child's school. In fact, it's a win-win-win.

Click here to read the article: How do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?

1. Abboud, S.K., Kim, J. How do asian students get to the top of the class? Found on 20 August 2010 at http://www.greatschools.org/parenting/teaching-values/parenting-students-to-the-top.gs?content=481&page=all
2. New study finds asian american students gnerally outperform other racial/ethnic subgroups in state math and reading tests. Center on Education Policy. Found on 20 August 2010 at http://www.scribd.com/doc/35220889/Asian-American-Academic-Achievement-June-2010-CEP

13 August, 2010

Getting a Jump-Start

I do not have it figured out yet. This whole business of educating my kids, I mean. For us, it has been trial and error. Lots of trying. Lots of erring. On my part mostly. But, don't get me wrong. There has been loads of good stuff too.

We have unschooled. We have home-schooled. We have French-schooled. We have public community-schooled. The means of the education have all been different, but one thing has been a constant (source of irritation).

It's all of that reminding, er downright NAGGING that I have been doing. And all of that  procrastinating the kids have been doing. It goes something like this:

O.K It's time to do your ......
Groan. Sigh. Groan. 
Get out your ....
Moan. Sigh. Moan.

It is exhausting and I am getting exhausted just thinking about it as we approach the new school year. So, I am trying something new. Each day, I will write down a list of five tasks that I really want the kids to complete that day. 

Now, I do realize that this does not sound like a very new idea at all. In fact, when I was a kid we called it "seat work" (a list of tasks written on the chalkboard at school that we were supposed to do before our actual schoolwork began).

Well, I am taking the idea of "seat work" and tricking it out a little bit. First, I am giving it a new name. Jump-Start. Why do we have to do it? Because it gets our brains going. Kind of like "jump-starting" a car battery.

Next, I am giving the kids some choices. (At least, I want it to appear that way) For example, my eight year old is learning her multiplication tables right now. She must memorize these, but it doesn't really matter in which order she does this. So, on the daily list I will put:
Write down any multiplication table. (Rather than choosing it for her)

Last, I am adding only those important tasks to the list that I would be reminding them to do anyway. For example, each of my girls are learning to play an instrument. Each week, they have a lesson with a private instructor. Daily practice is required. If the kids don't practice, I am wasting money. And I can't stand doing that. So on the list, I will put: Play 1 song on your instrument 5 times.

Our first Jumpstart list looks like this:

  1. Read a Scripture verse or a poem out loud.
  2. Write 1 multiplication table.
  3. Read 1 chapter out of any book.
  4. Sketch something.
  5. Play 1 song on your instrument 5 times.
Now, I just need a better way to remind the kids to brush their teeth.

06 August, 2010


 This week, my kids, their grandparents, and I spent an afternoon with the ducks. 

Ducks are noisy. They are pushy.They will step on your feet. (Not to mention they are constantly doing the other thing that gets onto the bottom of your feet) These guys will quack at you, follow you relentlessly, and peck the face off of their mate for a moldy crouton. Ducks are great fun to observe!

Observation takes time, but oh man, you can learn an awful lot by watching something carefully. It occurred to me today that an afternoon at the duck pond is not just a pleasant outing with the kids. It is an ornithology lesson!

I should know this already, but sometimes I forget. I don't need to follow a textbook, set learning outcomes, and check out every book at the library on a certain topic a week in advance for the kids to learn something.

Learning will happen. Naturally. Sometimes, I just have to get out of the way.

02 August, 2010

A Barrel of Fun

 Apartment Therapy's kid site Ohdeedoh included our family's recent vineyard visit in their Adventures and Outings segment today. Click here to check out.
While we were on holiday in southwest France this summer, my husband suggested that we visit a vineyard. I thought that sounded lovely. For honeymooners. Or retirees. Or anybody else who was not vacationing with their three wiggly children. 

He got his way. Mostly because he made the reservation when I was unaware that he was doing so. But I'm really glad that he did. The tourism office in Bordeaux set up a tour for us at a vineyard in St. Emilion that (the woman assured us) welcomed children. 

The Franc Mayne Vineyard was verdant and beautiful.They had a koi pond that nobody fell into. The tour was interesting. For everybody. Do you know that French winemakers are absolutely not allowed to use sprinklers? And the kids did not even burst open the barrels. (That was what I was worried about. Reddish-purple juice spewing everywhere)

After the vineyard tour, we walked around the picturesque town of St. Emilion, which was also surprisingly kid-friendly. At the tourist office, they even offered the children a puzzle to learn about some of the town's interesting places. 

O.K. So I was wrong and my husband was...right. There I said it. It happens sometimes!