All the Children Are Above Average

Yesterday morning, Noah and June and I set out for the playground with two plastic newspaper sleeves. We had a dual goal, to get out of the house so Beth could have some quiet time to do computer support for an ongoing phone banking project her office is coordinating and to collect pebbles and twigs for Noah’s Crow Teepee diorama project. It was a lovely early fall day, sunny and in the high sixties–“the perfect temperature,” Noah opined as we walked.

The creek was low, as it often is this time of year, with more than half the creek bed exposed and a good selection of rocks lying there for the taking. Both kids concentrated on filling their bags. Noah carefully examined his, rejecting some as too big or too small, or too bumpy. June occasionally commented that her rocks were “more beautiful” than Noah’s. She finished rock collecting before he did and we headed to the swings.

While she was climbing one of the big play structures she befriended another little girl. They compared clothing: “I have a rainbow dress,” the other girl opened and June replied, “I have a pink pink dress,” by which she meant alternating stripes of dark and light pink. Next they exchanged ages: “I’m four and I just had my half-birthday,” June informed the other girl. “I’m five…well, almost five,” the girl returned. Once this conversation was complete they were fast friends. When Noah came over he wanted to join in their games, but they shut him out and he decided to go home on his own and get to work on the diorama. I felt a little sorry for him, getting dissed by four year olds, but rather than try to negotiate the situation I said that was a good idea because he really did have a lot of homework this weekend. He had 38 pages to read in Lois Lenski’s Indian Captive (, he had to complete a worksheet on it, he needed to practice his drums and, of course, there was the diorama.

The diorama is part of a research project on the Crow tribe Noah’s been working on for several weeks and will be working on until sometime in November. Last month we visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, where a librarian in the research center helped him find more specific books on the Crow than we had been able to find at our public library. (And then by an amazing coincidence an actual Crow historian from Montana came by to do his own research and the librarian sent him over to chat with Noah for a while. It was one those moments I’m truly grateful for the unique cultural and educational opportunities we have living so close to Washington, D.C.) Noah has already completed his research and a poster about the Crow. After the diorama, there will be a model of an artifact, an oral presentation and a paper. Come November, we are all going to know a lot about the Crow tribe. (For instance, their civilization evolved from an agricultural one to a nomadic hunter-gatherer one, in a reversal of the usual pattern.)

We’ve also learned a lot about different kinds of graphs. Last week Noah turned in a collection of four graphs, a line graph, a bar graph, a pie chart and a stem and leaf graph ( That last one was a new one for Beth and me. He had to decided what each graph would measure, collect the data and write a paragraph explaining how he had avoided bias while selecting people to survey. He titled it “How I Was Random,” which I love.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with the curriculum at Noah’s new school. He’s doing sixth grade math, reading interesting books (they just finished Tuck Everlasting), doing fun science experiments (observing different kinds of life forms in their soda bottle “eco columns”) and going into topics in great depth. He’s definitely being challenged, and although he won’t get a report card until November, I think his days of straight As are over for now. He’s had some As, but he also got a 70% on a math quiz and a 75% on the map component of his Crow poster. He had a healthy indifference to grades, but I can tell he’s not at the top of his class anymore, which is probably a good thing. He will need to stretch himself. That’s what happens when, as in Lake Wobegon (, all the children are above average.

He’s also started percussion lessons. He’s playing the drums and something called “the bells,” though to me it looked like a glockenspiel. (Then I looked it up and found out glockenspiel is German for “set of bells,” so there you go.) He’s had two lessons so far and he practices faithfully and with enthusiasm. It’s nice to see him enjoying music almost as much as he did when he was little and passionate about all things musical.

We decided against the after-school Spanish club, due to time restraints. I’m a little sad about that but the boy is busy. He doesn’t get home until 4:15 or 4:30 and he had a lot of homework. He watches a lot less television and plays on the computer a lot less than he did last year. We’ve also had to cut back on the books he and read together for fun, though since school started we finished the last two books in the Chronicles of Narnia, and then we read A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. We’ve decided to hold off on starting A Swiftly Tilting Planet until next weekend so he can focus on his schoolwork.

Socially, there’s been some improvement, as well. He has not made any new friends at his school but he says he doesn’t feel as if people dislike him and he is not teased and ostracized as he was last year. Most days he does have playmates at recess, both kids he knows from his old school and new classmates. I do want him to keep in touch with his old friends. He still plays with Sasha and I’ve been meaning to make a play date with Elias soon. With luck, he’ll make some new friends as the school year progresses.

Saturday afternoon Beth and Noah went shopping for diorama materials and Noah spent a good bit of the weekend working on it. As of Sunday evening, he had printed out photographs of a grasslands landscape and used it to line in the inside and outside of the box. He constructed a teepee out of twigs and fabric he selected because it looked like buffalo skin using craft instructions he found online. He made a campfire out of a twig and yellow felt. He cut out the figures of adult and a baby out of cardboard and dressed them in red felt dresses decorated with tiny white buttons meant to represent elk teeth. He made food out of modeling clay that June graciously donated. Finally, he printed out labels for all the components of the diorama. So far only the teepee is glued in but it was a pretty good weekend’s work. To say he needed a lot of reminders to stay on task would be an understatement, but it was completely “student-crafted,” which I believe meant “Parents, please do not make your child’s diorama for him or her.” Not that there was any danger we would. When Noah needed a reminder to get back to work, Beth told him, “Go, student, craft!”

And I must say that despite the adjustments we’ve needed to make for his long commute and heavier workload, watching my young scholar craft these past six weeks has been a great pleasure.