Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fairy Tale Project: Cinderella

Yay! We finally got back to our fairy tale project!

And, wow, there really are a lot of versions of Cinderella!

Some of the versions can get extremely dark - did you know that Grimm's version include the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to try to fit the shoe? And then getting their eyes pecked out by birds as retribution for their treatment of Cinderella? Yikes.

The Kid doesn't like her stories to be that dark, so we went a different direction: Cinderella stories from around the world. I had no idea how much the stories varied. Here's what we read:

Cinderella by Loek Koopmans (based on the Charles Perrault version)
The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo
The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo
The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo
Cinderlily by David Ellwand (doesn't really fit in with the round-the-world theme, but pretty and whimsical)

We could have gone on and on. The versions above were chosen because they were readily on my library's shelves the day we went.

The discussions we had from this were quite interesting. I've always thought the tale a little ridiculous with the they-danced-for-a-few-hours-and-then-the-prince-was-utterly-obsessed-and-they-decided-to-marry-from-this-one-interaction bit. But The Golden Sandal is set in a time and place that includes arranged marriages, so the two never even meet until they are betrothed! The Kid didn't know anything about this custom, and we talked about how marriage is treated in different cultures and during different times.

After reading them all, we talked about what made a Cinderella story a "Cinderella story". Many of the versions were big departures from the story known in the U.S. The common threads we found were that the "Cinderella" character had to be badly treated by at least some family members, there had to be a very desirable male, there had to be a "test" of some sort (like fitting the glass slipper), and there was always some element of magic/supernatural. All the rest of what we know as a Cinderella story is quite negotiable in other versions.

The Kid wrote her own version, with the only "rule" being that she had to follow the things we had outlined as being non-negotiable for Cinderella stories. And since she is learning to type, she was determined to write it herself, so this is the first Fairy Tale Project that I haven't taken dictation for! She is so proud of the story that she wrote all on her own!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What a "Math Break" Looks Like At My House

The Kid says she hates math. This is heartbreaking. I love math. She used to love math.

So we're on an extended math break. We haven't done formal math since December and I don't know when we'll add it back in. Not having math class hasn't stopped us from having lots of math, though. In fact, I'm starting to suspect that we have more math in our day now than we did when we had math class!

Dragonbox Numbers: An iPad app that works like animated Cuisenaire rods. C rods might be the one and only manipulative we never used. The skills for this app are appropriate for preschool to maybe 1st grade, but The Kid is loving using it.

Slice Fractions: Another iPad app. If Dragonbox and Cut the Rope had a baby, this might be it. No previous exposure to fractions is needed, and it is truly a game not just math in disguise :)

Sir Cumference: a series of books with lots of math puns and that requires some math to solve an issue for the characters. They're lots of fun!

Penrose the Mathematical Cat: Oh, how I love Penrose. This book gives a very brief introduction to lots of math topics, most of which are not covered in any standard elementary math program. Honestly, I think this book may be best if the parent enjoys math and can go deeper into the topics as desired.

Math Adventures series and other books by Wendy Clemson: We stumbled across these at the library and The Kid has checked out most the series now and reads them for fun.

Beast Academy guides: Though The Kid isn't ready to try tackling the Beast workbooks again, she does love reading the guides. The math beasts are fun, relatable, and also sometimes struggle with their math.

Murderous Maths: A very British series of math(s) books. These are more dense than the other books on this list, but the authors seem to find joy in making the story around math fun. The concepts presented are often well beyond what The Kid can actually do, but she likes to let ideas percolate in her brain.

Bedtime Math: We renamed this series Mealtime Math in our house, and cover a couple pages at lunch or dinner. This series of math books has a simple setup: a silly bit of information, followed by 3-4 math questions of increasing difficulty. It's brilliant. They're so very silly, and are all in word problem format.

Toothpick puzzles: There are some of these in the first Beast Academy workbook, there is one in every issue of Highlights MathMania, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about you can find some here.

Sleeping Queens: a fun game that includes the need to add up combinations of 5, 10, 15, and 20, plus you use single digit numbers to form equations.

Zeus on the Loose: another fun game that includes adding a single digit number to a 2-digit number, plus occasional subtracting and rounding

And the math book section at the library is at call number 510. Lots of math books are thinly veiled instructional texts or workbooks. Don't get me wrong, those are likely still more fun for many kids than traditional math, but they're not nearly the same as a well crafted book that happens to include math! Have fun and choose wisely.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Some Travel Practicalities and Planning Tips

Any time I mention our travels, I get asked how I found and arranged everything. i wish I had some amazing travel secrets, but I don't. The Kid and I have done two huge trips now - Guatemala in 2015 and Honduras in 2016. I found everything through simple google searches. Language schools are scattered throughout Central America, and most will arrange homestays. Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure your paperwork is in order. Many countries require that your passport not expire for at least six months after you enter. If only one parent is traveling, you may need a notarized form from the other parent stating that you have their permission so as not to be suspected of kidnapping your own child. (Though I have to say, no country has ever asked to see this paperwork, even when it's required. It's a little disconcerting.) If the country you are entering requires a vaccination record, you'll need to have that as well.

2. Medications. Some people travel with half a pharmacy in their bag. I only bring prescriptions, ibuprofen, children's Tylenol, and an anti-diarrhea medicine. Don't forget to check with your local doctor's offices beforehand about any recommended travel vaccines or anti-malarial medication.

3. Money. ATM cards are easiest in most parts of the world, but there are some where ATMs aren't as common or aren't as safe. You'll need to tell your bank that you're traveling, as otherwise many prevent foreign transactions as a fraud prevention measure. Traveler's checks have fallen by the wayside and aren't widely accepted in my experience. Some countries will only accept U.S. cash if it is perfect condition (not even the tiniest tear or ink mark on the bill).

For the trip to Honduras, I remembered to bring my bank card and a credit card. I remembered to make sure my bank knew I was traveling so my card would work in Honduras. I remembered to make sure the ATMs locally were safe to use (some parts of Honduras are well known to have skimmers on machines). And yet, I still forget to see what type of cards were accepted. The ATM did not accept my MasterCard. This means I could make charges at most tourist places, but I couldn't get cash. Damn it. Almost everywhere operates on a cash basis there except for the pricey tourist places. Even some of those are cash only. Fortunately, my husband was still in the U.S. and Western Union works. It barely even costs more than ATM fees, though the lines are definitely longer.

4. Pack lightly. Very, very lightly. Especially if you intend to move around from place to place, you want to be able to carry all your bags in one load.

5. Research before you go. There are so many travel sites online. Trip Advisor is a great one for hotels, restaurants, and activities. 123teachme is a well known site listing Spanish immersion schools, but it is worth noting that schools pay for inclusion so it is nowhere near comprehensive. Guatemala365 is specific to Guatemala, but with the same caveat about not being comprehensive.

As for what to research... It can get overwhelming. So, here's another list:

1. Where to go in general. What countries sound interesting to you? Do you want a small town or a city? A beach? Mountains? Forest? Are there activities that are important to you? What is your budget and can you manage in your areas of choice? These can be very specific to your family - we learned by experience that a place with no open spaces for playing was not a good choice for us, even though the area gets fantastic reviews from others. Now we know to ask about public green spaces!

2. Which language school? Some areas have a lot of choices, some just a few. Find all the reviews you can. Most areas copy the basics from each other - if the standard in that city is for classes to be 1-on-1, all the schools will do it that way. If the standard is to have group classes, all the schools will do it that way. Homestays are not common in touristy areas, but they are commonly available elsewhere. Prices are pretty standardized in some areas and quite variable in others.

Once you narrow it down, email each of your top schools to ask any specific questions. Our questions always include whether homestays include more than one student (more students means hearing more English), whether we can be sure of being placed in a homestay with other children present, and how the level of instruction is determined.

3. What else is there to do? You don't want to spend all your travel time finding ways to keep occupied. Besides, you may have very limited internet. Have a decent idea of other activities in the area and going rates. But don't try to fill up every minute of your time in advance. You'll get ideas from locals and other travelers once you arrive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Honduras: Week 5

Roatan! How beautiful, and sunny, and beachy! Never mind the fact that I got burnt each day despite putting on SPF 70 every hour and buying a long-sleeved rash guard! It was gorgeous and I never wanted to leave.

There were hermit crab races for charity:

There were fire dancers:

There was this beach only a block from our hotel:

The Kid went parasailing:

She played with monkeys:

We saw so many starfish!


We took an all-day boat tour and had lunch on a private island:

And then... we returned home. I miss paradise.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Honduras: Week 4

Our last week in Copan Ruinas!

We started it out by touring a coffee farm. Neither The Kid nor I had previously had any idea how coffee was grown. It turns out to be grown on little trees on steep mountainsides. This was an interesting trip that managed to keep both of us engaged - perfect for our last big Copan excursion!
One coffee berry, squashed open to find the coffee bean inside

Lots of coffee bushes! Oh, glorious coffee!

I'm super pleased with our Spanish progress. I'm now able to speak in future and past tenses as well as present. The Kid has unlocked the mystery of conjugating verbs that previously eluded her and is much, much more comfortable actually using the Spanish she knows. I call that a definite success!
My daughter's teacher, during a class time trip to the park

This week was *really* hot! Three days at 95+ degrees! It's been so long since I lived without air con that I just forgot how miserable those temps can be. We spent a lot of time indoors to be out of the sun. Even ice cream would have melted too fast to eat.

We had only been out to one restaurant plus out for some snacks, so we splurged one day on a nice restaurant lunch. It was an awesome treat!

On Friday, we left school after just two hours and headed to the bus station. We had a 7 hour bus ride in front of us, which turned out to be 8.5 hours. Ugh. The Kid did great, just played on her iPad pretty much the whole time. I get carsick if I try to use a tablet or read a book in a moving vehicle, so I spent the ride watching Honduras go by out the window. We then spent one night in a hostel in La Ceiba before taking the ferry to Roatan the next day. That afternoon, we finally got to see my husband again! He met up with us for this week in Roatan, along with a family friend. Impressions and stories from Roatan will be coming next week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Honduras: Week 3

Allergies? Seriously? Other than mild seasonal allergies, The Kid has never shown any sign of allergies. Until now. Of course, at home, I could think about what new thing had been introduced just recently. But here, there are lots of new things. Where would I even start?

We'll probably have no idea what caused the crazy rash that covered most of her body. It was red and itchy, started slowly on Friday and by Sunday was covering her. At that point, we went to the pharmacy and asked for something for allergies. There is no wandering the aisles of a pharmacy here like at home. You walk in, there is a counter, you tell them what you want (in whatever Spanish you have), they give something to you, and you pay. As it turns out, what they had was liquid loratadine (generic Claritin) with dosing instructions in both Spanish and English. I would have preferred Benadryl, but took what I could get. Whether it was the medicine or the rash resolving itself, it did get much better in the days to follow.

After a cool weekend, the weather heated back up. I like the warmth, so no problem for me! The Kid was happy for the excuse to go for ice cream in the park. Ice cream bars cost around 15 lempiras (US$0.75) and a small ice cream cone costs 5 lempiras (US$0.25). Tuesday was hot enough that the ice cream would have melted before it could be eaten, so we opted for licuados instead. Licuados are fresh fruit, sugar, water, and ice blended together and absolutely wonderful.

Climbing trees is a great pasttime no matter what the country!

As before, school is great but uneventful. The Kid is learning to conjugate irregular verbs. I'm learning how to use the past tense. We get a lot more practice now in our homestay. We talk to people at the table over meals. The Kid plays with the seven year old. (The seven year old goes to the bilingual school and is reasonably fluent in English, but happy to operate mostly in Spanish with The Kid, so it works well. They start with Spanish and if there is difficulty, they try flipping into English.)

On Saturday, we headed to the hot springs. Soaking in warm water for three hours was a bit much for The Kid, who kept wanting to move around and splash, so I felt like I spent all my time trying to corral her and zero of my time relaxing. The night before, it rained, making the rural roads muddy and difficult for the van driver to navigate, meaning the "40 minute ride"each way turned into an 80 minute ride each way. Overall, I have to say between the long ride and corralling The Kid, this excursion was more of a bust. We did both like the natural mud bath.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Honduras: Week 2

Week 2 started with a bit of a stomach upset for me. Nothing major, just traveler's sickness. Still, it meant very little food for about two grumpy days. The Kid seems to have an iron stomach.

Still, we had plans. Sunday, we went to Enchanted Wings, a small mariposaria (butterfly farm). It was pretty, totally worth the quick trip.

Monday morning, The Kid and I had a talk about our "B&B homestay". We had both enjoyed our homestay last year in Guatemala and were pretty disappointed not to be living with a family here. During the first week, The Kid played with two other kids here, but they both speak fluent English. The adults were too busy working to spend much time letting me practice my Spanish. We had specifically wanted to live with a family, not a hotel. After classes, we talked to the school director, who promised to look into other possibilities for our homestay.

School was uneventful. Every day, we went and learned new things. Every afternoon, we did our homework. We're definitely learning more and more.

Studying in the garden after class

Friday, we moved to our new homestay. There was an awkward conversation with the first homestay trying to explain that we liked them and didn't want to hurt their feelings, but wanted to live with a traditional family while in Honduras. The new homestay was exactly what we hoped for! We settled in immediately, had some wonderful soup for lunch, and started learning names. That afternoon, we walked about this new part of town with a couple of local children, including the seven year old granddaughter of our homestay mom and a neighbor. Oh, I wish I were better at mental mapping!

The one downside to the new homestay - they do not have Internet. It's been a while since I've been without internet for any appreciable amount of time and I forgot how isolating it can feel. There is Internet at the school, but not much time in which to use it.

Saturday, we went to the bird sanctuary. In English, it is known by the name Macaw Mountain. To the locals, it is El Parque de Aves. Either way, it was an absolutely gorgeous place to walk through the forest. They have a number of very nice, large cages for a variety of parrots and toucans, obtained either as unwanted house pets or confiscated by the government when found in illegal trade busts. There is a small breeding program to reintroduce macaws (guacamayas) to the nearby ruins, where there is already a flock thriving.

With a macaw at the sanctuary

Some of the flock of macaws at the ruins

We capped off that visit with a stop at The Tea and Chocolate Place (el luger de té y chocolate), an amazing place that grows absolutely everything they sell - the plants for the teas, the cacao for the chocolates, any herbs used... All of it, and all organically. The Kid ordered the best hot chocolate either of us had ever had, ground cacao unfiltered in the milk and just a touch of sweetness. We took advantage of the unusual selection to buy an Equinox present for my husband and a couple small presents for our homestay family. I also squirreled away a package of freshly ground cacao to make more of that amazing hot chocolate at home!

Lots of freshly roasted cacao beans!