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Strolling to school with Bentley this morning (since 7-year olds do not walk at any faster speed!) he asks me a profound question: "Dad I know that sometimes we can look in books to learn stuff. But if it not in books already, how do we learn stuff?"
I could not help myself, so I explained (superficially) that we do something called an experiment which is simply a yes - no question. We do a test and if the answer is "yes" then we add knowledge and move a little further; if the answer is no, then we start again.
How does this child have such a profoundly inquiring mind?
I related this anecdote to my 11th graders in DP biology today and I could not help but tear up and choke on my affection and admiration for this special boy.
Bentley is a great reader. He loves to read and has fantastic comprehension. He read the first 40 Magic Treehouse books before he started first grade. I asked him yesterday, "When doe the new Reading Challenge begin?" This is an annual elementary event in which each student sets an individual goal with their teacher's approval. I am looking forward to another big reading interval when they begin.
Much to my surprise he said tonight," Mrs Schumacher [fantastic 1st grade teacher] says it will start in a couple weeks. Guess what my goal is?"
"25 books?" I asked, rounding up in my mind.
"Nope; one thousand pages!" I was stunned briefly; until I remembered his pre-kindergarten goal was 100 books with the same achievement oriented teacher.
"Mrs. Schumacher asked me if I wanted to reduce my goal to 800 pages. I said, 'No, that's ok. My dad can get me through it."
GULP! I guess we will!!
One of the amazing things about getting a Wii is that the electronically oriented games actually stimulate interest in real, physical games - at least in our house.
• biking on the Wii makes me want to ride;
• skateboarding on the Wii makes Amy and I want to skateboard (in fact I have gone out twice to do just that in the past month!);
• playing table tennis makes Bentley and I want to play table tennis;
• and playing basketball on the Wii (3 on 3) makes Bentley and I want to shoot hoops. In fact, the Wii is designed to really take a basketball shot into account: too much forward propulsion does not go high enough to score; too much height does not carry the ball to the basket; very realistic. While Bentley plays, for this reason, he asks for help to make baskets so I have been teaching him.
Today we went swimming and on the way home we passed the basketball hoop and ball. We stopped because he has expressed so much interest that I want to capitalize on it for him and his athletic development. I showed him how to shoot correctly using his left hand to stabilize the ball then push up and forward using his wrist. I soon realized that he is too little to shoot a full-size ball in the net. So I changed tactics and showed him the two-handed push shot (see photo above). This tenacious little boy just shot and shot and shot and I realized that he was putting the ball higher and higher. Then he hit the net, then he hit the rim! Almost in!
One of Bentley's favorite stories is Peter Pan. One of his favorite activities, therefore, is sword fighting (!) Thanks to a friend at GSIS, elementary students have an opportunity to learn traditional Japanese sword fighting, called "kum-do."
It was Saturday morning. I went in to help Bentley get dressed. "Can I watch a movie?" he asked, since this is sort of a Saturday morning habit.
"No," I said. "It is better to get up and play or read some books and just enjoy a quiet morning." As I help him on with his shirt, then underwear and pants, Beth comes in. "Bentley, do you want to watch a movie?"
Bentley turns to look at me with a smile and a chuckle - knowing EXACTLY what is happening. He asks, through a grin, "Hear that Dad?"
I burst out laughing; what else could I do? He is such a sweetheart and has such a modest way of stating and asking. I'm helpless with his cuteness!
I forget the actual beginning of the issue, maybe seeing all the clock's in "Hook;" bentley's all time favorite movie. In any case, he really wanted a clock and so Beth bought an alarm clock for him. It is similar to the one pictured here, but humbler. Still, it was a good old mechanical ringer. The first night Bentley was excited to set the clock, but the cacophony the next morning was shocking, so he asked Beth not to set the alarm anymore. Dad, however, did not know this.
To be helpful, the next evening when Bentley was asleep, I checked his clock and finding the alarm "off" I fixed the situation and slid the switch to "on." In the morning (I sleep till 7:00 but Beth is well up by then) I hear the alarm go off and it wakes me - sort of. Until it is ringing for a couple seconds and I hear Beth ask, from the dressing room, "Did you turn on Bentley's alarm? He said it was scary for him." So I (uncharacteristically) LEAPED from bed, ran in to Bentley's room - switching on the light and hurriedly shutting off his alarm.
I have begun doing (nearly) daily writing exercises with Bentley. He is very conscious of parity with his peers and Beth pointed out that his hand writing is not as clear (see "Aunty" above) and his drawings are not as detailed as his peers. Frankly I think it is within the normal range, but to help him feel better about his ability I want to help improve this skill. Today, for example, I wrote a little excercise for Bentley.
To make it intersting I ask him for what he wants the story to be about. He said, "Cows!" So I made up a one page story (good practice for me!):
It is so fun to see him read and write (he traces my letters for letter writing practice; to help him develop his fine motor skills). As he reads, he sounds out words - and learns new words in the process - and as he reads he gets the imagery and the humor. I asked him "why did the farmer make metal shoes?" Bentley, answered, "metal shoes will keep their feet dry" Interpretation: wet feet slip; dry feet grip. I figure that is fine :)
This evening we were reading Bentley's reader (from kindergarten). As it turns out, the first word was "one." Bentley pronounced the word, "on." I corrected him gently, telling him that it looks like "on" but is pronounced "one."
"Oh, No!" Bentley said.
"What?!" I exclaimed; startled, thinking his comment a surprising reaction to a trivial three letter word at the beginning of a cheesy reader.
Bentley explained: "Today I was making birthday cards in kindergarten for Mrs. Rains [the librarian] with Abby [one of his friends in kindergarten]. Abby asked me, 'Bentley, how do you spell "one?" '
So I told her, "Abby, 'one' is spelled wuh, wuh, wuh - double-u; uh, uh, uh - yoo; nn, nn, nn - ehn; W-U-N."
"Papa, I told her how to spell it wrong!"
"But!..." I assured him, "You did an excellent job of spelling according to the sound of the letters; that is exactly the right thing to do! There is no way to guess how to spell this word from the way it is spelled. Some words are just like that."
[Note to reader: we live in Korea presently]
One of the interesting things about adoption, is you are unclear how aware your children are, or to what degree they perceive, their native heritage. Today after school while we were walking home from school, Bentley asked me, "Papa, can you teach me some words from Ethiopia?" I speak a little Amheric, though no Oromo, which is the language of Bentley's birth-mother. Still, I was interested that he brought up the question. I told him a few words, like "lij" meaning "child" or "tsehi" meaning "sun."
He definitely has a life rich with languages. He speaks English fluently - and without taking a breath most of the time!
In school he takes Korean language every day. This has made him a favorite with everyone he meets! Older people love his greeting in Korean, with the appropriate formal bow his head. He understand some of what people say to him; "Papa, that old lady said I was cute!"
One day ahead we will look at Ethiopia specifically, and the possibility of learning Oromo, but for now we will just drink in the opportunities we bump into every day and enjoy life as it comes!
Image by Beth, 2010)
Bentley is taking Taekwondo now and a couple times we have gone to the gym ro practice kicking with the pads; or punching. he is a very good learner and is learning to listen and respond to instructions. He is naturally enthusiastic - a teacher's dream! On Sunday afternoon we went to the gym for a break for me and fun for Bentley. We went to the padded walls room where there are mats for Taekwondo.
I showed him a couple times how to do a side kick (the one he likes the best) on a punching bag. I kicked it as high as I could (realizing how unflexible I am!) then a double kick for fun (could I still?) Bentley says, "Dad you are amazing!" and then he runs around and back to try a kick again then stands up and says, "Dad; can you show me how to be like you?"
I'm sure my response was predictable; the tears I shed at each telling are just a signal of the worth of words.
I will treasure these words - and live by them! from till eternity. And every day strive to live a life worthy of that kind of admiration.
Thanks God for children! Honestly, it was the best birthday gift I will ever get! :)
Bentley had a fever today of 38.5 C under his arm (meaning his internal temperature is likely 39.5 C), so Beth stayed home with him while the girls and I went to class on this last school day of the 2009-2010 school year. Apparently, kicking around the house, snuffing and feeling rotten, at one point Bentley came it to put his hand on Beth's arm while she was working on a math course at her desk in the bedroom. "What are you doing, Mom?" he said when he saw her using the Ti-84 calculator.
"This is a calculator. You can type in the numbers and it can do things like add them. For example [seeing his green soldiers on the bed], if you have 5 soldiers in this pile, [Beth typed 5 in the calculator] and 10 soldiers in this pile [she showed Bentley how to type 10 into the calculator] then [she presses "="] ... you have 15 soldiers all together [Beth shows Bentley the total on the screen.]
So for the next 30 minutes, playing on the bed, Bentley grouped his soldiers to together ( "8 and 3") then typed the number into the calculator: "11." Next he hand counted them just to confirm the answer; sure enough: ELEVEN!
Playing games is a lot of fun. This past year Bentley has enjoyed playing Uno a lot. We have pictures of him and grandpa Reg playing Uno in Kho Samui last summer.
Uno gets old fast (for adults!) so last Fall (2009) I played Dominoes with Bentley. We have a partial set (from a students Rube Goldberg project ...) of double-sixes that have all the "dots" painted white. I liked that, as color would not be a basis for "knowing" the numbers, Bentley had to count them after ballparking that two dominoes looked the similar. I saw this as a great learning tool. However, a partial set was partially fun and the local Korean department store, HomePlus does not carry dominoes and I could not find them as Emart or Costco either. My Mom in BC, Canada also could not find non-colored dominoes so I started casting about for other games.
We played checkers, but the concept of staying only on one color square was challenging. Secondly, diagonal moves that were either into empty spaces or jumping opponents turned out to be a bit abstract and hard to grasp - never mind the strategy on NOT moving into a space in which you would, in turn, be jumped. Chess was similar but harder (though Bentley loved the castle-looking pieces and the "horses!")
Bentley was officially the first student in his class to meet his Reading Challenge Goal or 200 books (whew!) In fact, before the end of the reading challenge his final tally was 280 books. The most exciting thing in the reading challenge, however, was not that I read him 280 books but that as the Challenge went along, he began reading! In the second half of the Reading Challenge I think he read about 20% of the books. We found that school books had challenging words (like "balloon") which are hard to sound out, but the same books had a LOT of repetition so "balloon" would appear at least once on every page, training "sight" reading. To complement that, and to teach Bentley to sound out his words, we got him started reading "Bob Books" (see above). Bob books are introductory readers with short vowel words (like "Mat" and "cat" and "sat") that permit children to predictably sound out the word. Both styles turned out to teach sight reading and phonetic-sounding out. The conclusion: Bentley can read now! He reads Bob books and reads his "teaching books" which are sent home (at least 2 different books each night). God has made this little boy very smart!
I have recieved several nice gifts in Korea as a teacher: a tie, silver cuff links, Bulgari cologne, wine, oranges, chocolates. 2 years ago I received a very nice gift from a student's parents at school: a large bottle of Black Polo. Regardless the motivation (did I smell bad? were they expressing appreciation? did they want a higher grade?) it is very much appreciated! Since receiving that kindness, I often spray myself briefly with this strong masculine scent as we leave the apartment on the way to school. When Bentley is with me he often gets his own shot of Black Polo. This morning I asked Bentley, "Do you want to smell like a man?"
"No. Why do we need it?" he asked.
"Bentley, ladies like it!"
After a minor shot of cologne, we leave the house and as Bentley closes the door behind me I hear him say, "Let's go get some ladies!"
Last year Amy taught Bentley to play Uno and he wins; often. To adults, Uno is quickly tedious; largely chance. So I taught Bentley Dominoes. Then Kila brought Sorry for Christmas and he learned that quickly. I see games as a way to not only have fun, but learn several other things: patience, sportsmanship, abstract thinking, strategic thinking, and cooperation. While looking at the Sorry box, I realized it is "For ages 6 +" and jokingly said to Bentley that he is not old enough to play this game (which he was beating me at). That made me think he might catch on to Settlers of Catan (for ages 12+).
The first Settlers game he learned at the rate I anticipated: he did not appreciate the strategy; he recognized many of the cards: sheep, wood, wheat but not all, he put two roads on the same hexagon side; the settlement/city distinction was unclear. But when we started playing the second game he showed he already memorized the prices of roads and chance cards! He REALLY wanted to biggest army (Darn all those point cards; gimme a soldier!" Now, 5 games later he understands the principles and is fun to play with. Strategy is not clear to him yet, but I am sure it won't be long!
Bentley has read, with his parents, a lot of books including Theodore Lesieg's "Maybe You can Be a Vet!" In tandem with this, travelling makes a big impression on him: he enjoys planes and trains and buses. Perhaps for these reasons he sometimes talks about wanting to be a pilot when he grows up. Well, not only a pilot. He says, "I want to be a pilot, then a pizza man, then I want to be an astronaut and drive a big truck and after that I will die because I have done everything." Not a morbid fascination with the hereafter, just a sense of content completion.
Yesterday he was particularly tired and it was hard to get his grumbling body out of bed to get dressed and have breakfast then off to pre-K. Trying to dress him while gently waking him, I said, "Bentley, remember that you want to be a pilot and to be a pilot you need to go to pre-K. Passing pre-K is a prerequisite for every pilot." Bentley responded, "I think I don't want to be a pilot; I just want to be a pizza man," with his eyes closed, but a grin on his waking face.
When you see a child playing or are cognizant of their proximity, they seem so self absorbed. Partly for that reason, children sometimes shock us by the things that they absorb through some sort of intelligent and unintentional saturation. Like a recent Sunday in Seoul, during which we went to the large Catholic cathedral on that Sunday, partly because the school provided a free bus. On this Sunday, Bentley was distracted by two new friends; adopted Columbian twin boys who have a dark complexion like Bentley does (although they are Columbian and Bentley is Ethiopian). Most of the way into mass, the priest briefly described how Jesus was at the table and broke the bread for his disciples. Bentley did not seem to being paying attention but was definitely listening. He pulls my arm and whispers in that non-whisper of little, eager boys, "That story is in my Bible too!" he says. What an extraordinary memory this beautiful boy has!
[We go to mass because it is a sort of mental relief and emotional holiday to to visit this beautiful, brick cathedral for English mass. Catholic services generally do not contain the emotional intensity which evangelicals intentionally saturate their service in. Catholic mass is pacific in the original sense. The priest's Irish accent, the predictable ritual, the lack of commotion, the silence of the building. The space inside the church seems to also put a space inside my mind. I don't loose my thinking, but my thinking stops taking up all my mental space. Instead there is space for God and calmness. It is a mental sabbath to sit & stand in there for 30 minutes. I think I do more worship and more reflection in 30 minutes of Catholic mass than I do most other places and times.]
One of the facts of childhood in today is movies and videos. Their value is questionable at best and it pains me that Bentley watches, on average, at least 1 hour per day; usually after he comes from from a day at school, before supper time. Still who is responsible for that? I am... So we are trying to make that time as little "lost" as we can, even if making it a positive growing time is not possible. Enter: pirated version of a poorly made animated series of stories from the Book of Virtue. (Is there irony in watching a pirated video based on the Book of Virtue?) The stories mis-sequenced (Theseus slay the minotaur in the labyrinth and earns Ariadne's hand in marriage then later in the video Daedulus is captured by King Minos and build the labyrinth...) Nonetheless, the stories are about virtuous character and use stories from great Myths. So much to my delight, Bentley was in the bath tub playing with some plastic figures last night. There was no Larry Boy, no Disney characters, no cartoons. In a four-year old bass voice, alongside the splashing, I hear from the bathtub, "King Minos said to Theseus, 'You cannot slay the minotaur!" Emotions of relief filled my heart to hear Bentley filling his mind with great Myths and timeless characters. [Minotaur image from: http://itpworld.wordpress.com/2009/04/]
Bentley has really enjoyed preschool during the first 4 weeks. He is eager to learn; he loves activities like singing and building. During the first couple of weeks we began to hear about this fictional place called "Netterland." Apparently there were some Netterland games on the computer which, I think, he played before classes began when he got to class early. As he learned his alphabet, we saw drawings and worksheets of Annie Apple, Bouncy Bear, and Crazy Cat. About this time he brought home a professionally published brochure which had all the letters of the alphabet characterized in their unique ways. As he handed it to me at home n the evening, I was curous what all of the letter would turn out to be. When I saw the title I started laughing; they lived in "Letterland." An "L" sure sounds a lot like an N and is even pronounced the same way (tongue on upper palate.) See the website at <http://www.letterland.com/>.