Friday, December 15, 2023

Funny learning stories

Zoë has been watching Victoria (with Miriam, whose favourite show when she was eight was...Victoria). She's gleaned all sorts of wonderful knowledge from this series, such as the fact that mothers have to push the baby out (she did not realize this was the case and has a new respect for mothers), as well as the following joke:

Q: What's the difference between a funny Dutchman and a tube?
A: One's a silly Hollander and the other is a hollow cylinder.

Last night the episode centered The Great Irish Famine and Zoë, who usually asks questions throughout every episode, sat stoically through the show. She had been doing her best not to cry. When the show was over she lost her composure and sobbed nearly until midnight. I had to pull up our family tree to prove to her that we had no relatives in Ireland in 1845 (because she was worried about that), but even then she was distraught because so many people had died. The Irish population was cut in half, so it was no small thing (and was handled abominably). 

I'll be looking for materials to help Zoë learn more about this subject, but today we spent the morning making Christmas cards for our co-op teachers, tending to our neighbour's puppy, attending co-op, and then dismantling the clubhouse (we took off the roof today, which felt like a real-life STEM assignment (I've been a co-teacher for the upper elementary STEM class this semester)). 

There are no pictures of the roof being removed because it was an all-hands-on-deck situation. We put some ratchet straps around the roof itself, tied ropes to the straps, and then lowered the roof to the ground using the frame of the clubhouse as leverage. Grandpa and Rachel stood on the ground below the clubhouse, with ropes going over the front and back walls, and Andrew and I stood inside the clubhouse with ropes going over only the back wall. And...well...nobody died...and the roof is off.

Here's a picture of Andrew removing the last f the nails before taking off the last wall/frame:

Anyway, was a busy enough day that we simply didn't worry about social studies very much...though one of Zoë's co-op classes is Georgia history and they've learned a lot there, so it all evens out.

The woman who teaches the Georgia history class is named Desiree. Zoë wasn't quite sure how to spell her name, so she looked it up online to see if her hunch was correct—which it was because she has very good spelling intuition. She found out a little bit more about the name Desiree as well...

"Mom!" she said excitedly. "Did you know that the name Desiree means 'pink-skinned potato with waxy yellow flesh'?"

"I am almost positive that is not what the name Desiree means."

(In fact, it's a French name that means (as it sounds in English) "desired.")

"But I looked it up! It's true!"

And it is true, somehow, that there is a variety of potato called Desiree. How Zoë stumbled upon that while trying to figure out how to spell Desiree, I will never...


I just searched for precisely that: "how do you spell desiree" and my first hit is now about potatoes. Before I was purely getting information about the name Desiree, but type in that whole question and you do, in fact, get potatoes.

Anyway, I told Zoë that her teacher's name did not mean "a potato of a pink-skinned variety with yellow waxy flesh" (sometimes you need to look beyond that first hit) and that she probably should not include this information on the card she made for her teacher. So this is what she wrote instead:

Dear Ms. Desiree, you are the Best Teacher In The World (BTITW). Do you have any Irish ancestors who were in Ireland? If so, they might have died in the great Potatoe [sic] Famine in 1845. I learned this in a Victoria episode. It is very sad. But at least it was 2 centuries ago! Have a very meowy Christmas!

(This is accompanied by a picture of a cat, of course...because of the meowing).


Phoebe had a bit of a monumental day at co-op today as well. It's our very last session for the semester and she's finally starting to warm up to things. Here she is, visiting one of her baby friends, with another baby-friend in tow:

The girl has fashion sense, you have to agree:

The first hour she goes into the preschool with Rachel, mostly because she wouldn't go in alone and cried and cried and cried (even with Rachel there), but also because Rachel will be teaching the preschool class next semester so she wanted to see how things...worked. The second hour, she just came to STEM class with me because she was finished with preschool—no thank you, no way! 

She sat nicely for the story the STEM teacher started the lesson with. She walked around looking at the towers and things the kids were supposed to be building. Then she asked to get a drink, so we walked to the drinking fountain to get a drink. When she was finished, she grabbed my hand and said, "Find the kids!" And then she led me down to the nursery room.

Her teacher invited her in and Phoebe said, "Mom—stay!"

"I can't stay," I said. "I have to go back to my classroom. Do you want to stay here? Or do you want to come with me?"

"We're about to play with play dough!" the teacher said alluringly. 

Phoebe looked at me. She looked at the play dough. She looked at me. She looked at the play dough. 

"Mom—leave. Phoebe—stay."

She found a seat at a table and dug in to a portion of play dough (cinnamon-scented; the whole room smelled delicious) and played happily for the rest of the time.

The rest of the time was only 15 minutes, but, hey! We take the wins where we get them and she willingly—and without a single tear—went into her classroom by herself.


The other day—when things weren't quite as busy as they were today and so we were actually doing our core subjects—Alexander was struggling with how to distinguish between “less than” and “greater than.” I remember struggling with this same thing when I was around his age, an age when kids are still frequently reversing telling the difference between < and > is...I's got to be some kind of cruel joke, right?

So we went to the whiteboard and I turned the < sign into an alligator, as one does.

"Think about it as a hungry alligator that always wants to eat the very most it can. For example, if this alligator had the option of eating five…"

"People!" Benjamin offered enthusiastically.

"Fine," I said. "Five…people. If the alligator had to choose between eating five people or eating one person, what would the alligator choose?"

Alexander blinked a few times. 

I waited.

"Hrrrmmmm..." Alexander harrumphed. 

I waited. 

Alexander gave a little shudder. 

I waited some more because it's important to give people time to think about things. 

Alexander gulped. 

"One," he whispered so quietly it was nearly inaudible. "Just one person."

"No—the alligator is very hungry, remember?" I said. "It wants to eat the most food possible, so it’s going to choose…"

Still whispering, Alexander cut me off: "This conversation is making me feel very uncomfortable."

"Understandable," I said. "So not people then. Five turtles or birds or…"

"I still don’t like this."

I sighed a little before saying, "The alligator is a vegetarian. A hungry vegetarian. If the alligator has to choose between a bowl of five apples and a bowl with only one apple, which would it choose?"

I think he's finally got it now—the open "jaws" face whichever number is bigger—but it was a bit of an ordeal at the time. He took it as seriously as Chidi trying to solve The Trolley Problem. But alligators don't have ethics! (They're lawyers!) So they definitely munch on the most of whatever they can.

At lunch I played the song 'Rippy the Gator' by The Arrogant Worms (a charming—if a bit irreverent—Canadian music group):

When the song had finished playing, all Alexander could say was, "Wow."

Zoë, however, declared the song was really an important PSA since people who don't live in the south—such as Billy and his family, who were only on vacation in Florida—might not know to be cautious around bodies of water. Clearly she's grown up in Georgia. 

We don't have alligators here (because we're above the fall line, thank goodness) but if we drive just 1.5 hours down the highway, suddenly...alligators! People need to know that they shouldn't just...go in the water.

Anyway...we've had some fun learning days this week!

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