Ballet for Fun

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At 5 years old, my mom enrolled me in my first after-school class.

One day a week after school, I would change into my pink tights and black leotards on a bench by my school’s auditorium and eagerly wait for my ballet classes to begin.

This was long before iPods and compact sound system, so Ms. Nañas, my teacher, would haul her turntable, crates of vinyl records, and heavy speakers down the corridor and up the stage for her weekly classes.  I remember how she would mentally rehearse the routine at the corner of the stage and then gently put the needle on the record once she’s ready.

I pursued ballet on and off for 7 years. I got my pointe shoes at 9 when my calves and feet were strong enough to support my body when I stand on my toes.  I always felt proud and rewarded when asked during warm up exercises to stand at the end of the barre, because that meant that I was good enough to lead the barre exercises.

imagesI remember sewing the ribbons of my first ever pointes!

Today, I brought my daughter to her first ever ballet class.  I watched her from the big windows and hoped that she too, would enjoy the experience of performing in front of an audience.

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This is the first class that she requested to attend.  Truthfully, she could pursue this for as long as her schedule allows and for as long as she wants.

I was on and off with my ballet program because I spent my summer with my extended relatives, and my schedule was unpredictable.  But my mom would enroll me again after the summer break because she knew I enjoyed dancing ballet.

Like my mom, I would encourage and support my daughter’s interests.

And if my daughter decides at some point that this is no longer what she wants, I will make sure that she is leaving it for all the right reasons.

IMG_7523At 3, in a preschool dance class

A Good Preschool

So what makes a good preschool program?

1.   A school with teachers that treat each student with respect, and understands and appreciates the uniqueness of each child.

IMG_0359Keeping a watchful eye while a child builds with blocks

IMG_3337Allowing the child to experiment

2.  A school whose biggest asset are the teachers because they teach with intention and purpose.  

IMG_0292Sorting Shoes according to shoe closures:  laces, velcro, zipper, elastic

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Without teacher direction, a simple flower arrangement left on the counter inspired this clay creation

3.  A school with a principal/director who knows how to manage resources–teachers, materials, facilities, and parents.  The principal has the responsibility to hire and retain teachers.

This is the very basic; the core of a good school.

Once you have a list of schools that have all these qualities, then you can look at the program.

Where do you think your child will learn more and thrive?

In a child-centered program– Play-based, Project-Based, Bank Street, Reggio Emelia?

IMG_3232Diorama of a child’s bedroom

Or a teacher-directed program?  –think elementary school program but for little children, individual desks in rows, scheduled classes in reading, writing, math

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Does your child learn best by sitting on a chair reading quietly (Look for a more structured class that offers more teacher direction),

Or does he need to be move around and be active every few minutes? (Explore schools that allow children to move freely around the classroom)

Then, take into consideration your own goals.

Do you want your child to learn another language? (You need a language immersion program)

After careful research, you should be able to find a good school with little to no compromise needed.

My advice as a parent of young children myself: provide an environment that teaches life skills.

Preschool is the perfect opportunity for children to learn how to share, negotiate, explore, question, and experiment. I discovered that the older children get, the less tolerant they are of their peers who do not know how to be a team player.

Early Childhood Education

As a preschool teacher for many years, I am always asked what kind of preschool program I recommend.

My short answer: “It depends.”

The program in itself should not be the deciding factor.  You have the child’s interests to consider, as well as the ability of the teachers to implement the program.

IMG_0344Rolling plastic eggs down a ramp

I was fortunate to participate in an intensive preschool teaching conference by Bing Institute, the preschool laboratory program of Stanford University in California.

For five days they showed through classroom observations and experiential activities, how the five basic simple materials– sand, clay, water, blocks, and paint when used consistently, could teach and engage young children.

IMG_2227Scooping sand to a bucket and then transferring to a waiting dump truck

It was impressive how the organizers were able to tie up the use of the basic materials to the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical domains of learning.

On the last day of the conference, as the facilitators were trying to summarize 40 hours of hands on experience and presentations, the participants were asked to share what they learned.

As I was contemplating my answer to share with my peers, I had an epiphany!

  • The materials are not as important as the teachers who use them. The children become successful in making connections to the real world because of the teachers.

IMG_1675Observational Drawing: Vegetables from the Farmer’s Market

  • The teacher’s skill to facilitate learning and growth in the classroom is crucial.

IMG_0390Making Healthy Choices Project:  Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy

Smart boards and computers are important and some say, even necessary, to stay competitive in the preschool market.

But I say, a good teacher with simple materials will always trump incompetent teachers with computers.

(Follow up blog entry:  What makes a good preschool?)

Travel to Europe

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In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, suggests that for a partner to be a true partner, he must be treated as equal and capable.

imagesFor some wives, accepting that their husbands are capable of doing things around the house is difficult.  It is just not possible to delegate traditional responsibilities.

Some mothers can’t hand over parenting responsibilities because their way is the only way!  Everything is else is just sloppy.

It comes as no surprise then that children (and husbands) become highly dependent on the mom, and expect to be waited on hand and foot.

On the other hand, there are mothers who are eager to share the domestic responsibilities, but it is their partners who refuse to take them on.  Husbands are stuck in the gender-biased role of women being solely responsible in running the household.

Fortunately, my friends and I believe that our partners are equal and capable.  And our husbands, to their credit, have shown that they are more than capable!

A month ago, my friends and I met up in Europe.   We took a week off from work, left the kids with our husbands, flew to Amsterdam with a side trip to Antwerp.

IMG_0994Rijksmuseum, Museumplein, Amsterdam.

We were celebrating our friend’s wedding and we wanted to do it in a special way.  Since we no longer live in the same city, spending a week with each other is as special as it gets.

IMG_0963From Sydney, Lyon, Los Angeles.

_DSC1445With the bride at the Conservatorium, Amsterdam. Photo by CF.

The trip lived up to my expectations—good food, exceptional accommodations, excellent museums, but most of all, remarkable company.

IMG_0896Nuance. Duffel, Antwerp.

IMG_0832Envy. Amsterdam.

Image 1Josephine’s.  Antwerp.

Decades ago in the college cafeteria, we talked about philosophy classes, boys, and school orgs over Mongolian BBQ. Now in bars, we shared stories about our children, gossiped about ex-boyfriends, and discussed food and travel, all while drinking cocktails (or mocktails depending on who you ask).

IMG_0991Sir Albert Hotel, Amsterdam.

This reunion has been a long time coming for us that aside from soaking in the beauty of the place and admiring pieces of art, we chitchatted about everything—kamote, what meat to use in kare-kare, impromptu date in Baguio, first date in Union Square, fashion, packing, paddle brush, and the list goes on.

IMG_0817Self Portrait. Van Gough Museum, Amsterdam.

IMG_0966Veal Tartar with Poached Egg.  Conservatorium, Museumplein, Amsterdam.

IMG_0821Banana Hearts.  Flower Shop,  Amsterdam.

But this lovely reunion would not have been possible if my husband, actually, all our husbands, had not agreed to take on our household responsibilities.

For that, we will always be grateful!

Taking a week off meant that my husband had to make breakfast, drive the kids to school, and make dinner.  All these while doing his regular parenting responsibilities of preparing the kids’ lunches, picking them up from school, helping them with homework.  All tacked on to his regular work.

To all my Fuimos a Amsterdam friends, hooray for sharing domestic responsibilities and supportive husbands!  Next up, a two-week European vacation with the family!

Image 2The Philippine flag. Antwerp. Photo by ILDM

Homeworks and Tests

My first grade daughter casually told me over dinner that her unit test in Math is tomorrow.  She said that she was ready for it.

I asked her what she thought was challenging. She casually said —subtraction and telling time by quarter hour.  Since I check my daughter’s homework everyday, I know exactly what in subtraction trips her —it isn’t the process of taking away, but solving for the value of x (e.g. X-5 =2). In telling time, she reads 8:45 as 9:45 because the hour hand is closer to the next hour.

So after dinner, I made sample problems.  We sat together; she solved the problems. We were done in 15 minutes.

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I couldn’t help but think about how different the test culture is in her school compared to other schools.  Friends from the Philippines would tell me that when their children have exams, it is as if the parents are taking the exams as well.  The parents do not make plans other than spending countless hours preparing for the exam.

My daughter’s unit test is not even announced to parents, my guess is because the teachers do not want parents to drill their children.

At such a young age, tests are given to check the child’s mastery of the subject matter, and in effect, the teacher’s competency to teach. Cramming and drilling at this age to get a perfect score is just not going to work.

Can you imagine spending the whole day in school and coming home and doing more schoolwork?  What about the downtime?

IMG_0471A quick and simple project made after school

As a lower grade teacher myself, I tell the parents to alert me the moment that they find themselves spending a considerable amount of time teaching their children concepts that I should have taught in class. Because if they do, then it means that I was not effective and therefore, I need to re-teach the subject matter.

Homework that takes 2-3 hours to finish for an elementary school child means a) the child is highly distracted when doing the work and therefore, needs to learn to focus; or b) the child is not understanding the homework, and so the teacher needs to re-teach; or c) the teacher is trying to finish the curriculum and is leaving it up to the parents to complete it for them.

In my opinion, it is the primary responsibility of the teachers to impart the academic concept/skill to the children.  Sure, the parents can reinforce it, but the teaching falls squarely on the teachers’ shoulders.   It is after all, our job!

Audiobooks

When I taught first grade ten years ago, I had a Listening Center in my classroom.  I had a tape deck, 6 earphones, and multiple sets of first grade books in one cozy corner.

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I knew that a struggling reader would benefit from listening to an audio book.  As the story is read aloud, a struggling reader would be able to concentrate on making the story come to life without being bogged down with decoding words.

In a way, an audio book levels the field for all readers because struggling and advanced readers alike can listen together–something that would be impossible to do if an unskilled reader were left to read a challenging book on his own.

My children have listened to numerous audio books—Harry Potter, Percy Jackson series, Magic Tree House, The Inheritance Cycle, the list goes on.  Our very first audiobook was played in the car on our way to Disneyland.

randomhouseaudiobrisingr500The story in our CD deck

Although my children have always been confident readers, I found that listening to audiobooks made them even better readers, not to mention story writers.

My six-year old uses phrases like subtle whisper, frantically searching, and slow pace in her writing. These words I know she picked up from reading because we don’t use these words in our everyday conversation.

Not only does the audiobook help struggling readers, but also widens vocabulary.  My daughter listens and engages her older brother in discussions of books that she may not necessarily read on her own.   She now appreciates books that more savvy readers read.

I was worried that when they discovered audiobooks that they will stop reading on their own.  On the contrary, they developed an even more insatiable appetite to read independently.  Sometimes, they even choose to read books that they have already listened to because they like it so much.

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The best benefit of an audiobook for me is listening with my children.  Since we listen to the story in the car, we have mini book club discussions on our way to school.

I can even use the characters in the stories to stress a point when I am in my mommy-teacher moment like, “Remember, Galbatorix who made bad choices?  Tell me again the consequences of his actions?”

In a nutshell, listening to audio books can:

  1. help improve vocabulary
  2. allow a child to read beyond their reading level
  3. help their creativity in writing
  4. improve the ability to read aloud with expression

Reading for Kids

I am now writing in the library while my kids, 8 and 6,  are going crazy over the books that they can borrow.

They love books and take very good care of them, but their appetite to read is insatiable that if I were to buy every book that they fancied, we would quickly run out of space.

Instead we go to a public library to stock up on books.  I direct them to the children’s area, and recently, to the graphic novels section for their book selection;  I do not discourage them from reading books that are thick or have no pictures.

They choose books they can read by themselves, books that they want to be read aloud to them, and even books that are way too easy for them.

IMG_3452.JPGAt 18 months

It amazes me that they honestly derive pleasure from reading books because I was never that kind of a reader.  When I was in school, most of the books I read were assigned readings.

My children love reading books now because I made a conscious effort to promote reading.  My husband and I were determined to cultivate their love for reading.

Here are the reading strategies that worked for my family, I hope you will find them helpful:

1.  Start reading early and read often.  Yes, even if it is the same book over and over again (and, even if you think the child is not understanding the story).

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2.  Spend time in libraries. Borrow books that you think would interest them.  Do not veto a book just because you think it is too thick or too hard to understand.  Look for books with topics that appeal to them.

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3.  Give books as prizes.  It shows how much you, the parent, value reading.

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4.  Model reading.  A grown up has to model reading (in our case, my husband did).

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5.  Limit screen time.  Regulate watching TV and playing with video games.  And always have an abundant supply of books—chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, mystery, science, comics, etc.

6.  Listen to audio books.

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