Cans, Climbing and Codes

Well what a week it’s been…  Thank goodness for this blog – it helps me to have perspective and see the week as a whole rather than just good days and bad days…

There have most certainly been a few lows this week, M has been SO grumpy!  Lots of rudeness to me and D, lots of ‘I’m bored’ comments, followed by huffing and shoulder shrugging at all suggested activities.  Humph.  J and I are sure she needs more structure but she is unwilling to try.

Anyway, as I said before, it hasn’t been all bad, and here is a round up of all the activities we’ve been up to over the last week:

All 27 Sylvanian Family tin cans have been finished!  Wowsers that was a long job.  They look brilliant too.  M made a start on the cereal boxes which involves making a net using a set square.  She got very angry about it and gave up but I live in hope that she’ll want to try again as she seems more willing to have another go these days.

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The girls have really got into writing coded messages to each other, and to me.  M made one that had tiny symbols and pictures for each letter of the alphabet, which D loved decoding, but mainly we’ve been using a simple number/letter code.  It’s great for spelling practice and D wrote out all the letters of the alphabet in order, in capitals, which I’m not sure she’s ever done before.

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Games have continued on the iPad.  This week’s favourites have been Farmville (for M) and Slice Fractions (for both girls).

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M started a new climbing course at White Spider in Tolworth.  It’s fortnightly and she gets to experience climbing and bouldering and also has the chance of working towards climbing certifications if she wants to.  She managed to climb to the top twice!

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D was of course thoroughly bored while all this was going on, although there is a lovely climbing/play castle there too.  She made a comment along the lines of “why is it all about M?”.  So after I explained that she needs to tell me if she wants to do something particular inside or outside the house, we decided to write a list of all the activities she would like to do.  Telly was at no.1 so the next morning she merrily sat down to watch TV… ok…

On Saturday, J got the chance to see Arsenal play Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium and he took M along with him for her first football match!  She really enjoyed it and was in awe at the size of the stadium.

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Recently, D decided that she would like to learn a language as she was worried she wouldn’t be able to speak to people when she goes to another country – ahhh.  I asked if she would like to learn French (as we’re going to France next year) or Spanish like Go Diego Go and she immediately chose Spanish.  Phew, I have to admit I’m not a fan of learning French as nobody speaks it except the French – Spanish would at least be a bit more useful!  We tried a Duolingo app which had been recommended to me but it didn’t really suit D.  She decided to continue learning from Go Diego Go :).  She has learnt an awful lot of Spanish from watching it – she knows ‘amigo’ is ‘friend’ and today we had a little Spanish conversation!  I was trying to get her upstairs to ‘de-nit’ her hair so I said “vamos” and she said “por favor, no”.  Ha!

M made gloop, one of her favourite activities.  I suggested it, thinking it was soothe her during one of her angrier moments and I was right!  I also slipped in the fact that it is a non-newtonian fluid while she was happily playing…

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M is also very interested in Vi Hart on YouTube – if you’ve never heard of her then have a watch, they’re fascinating videos!  Whether or not M takes in the maths involved, she loves Vi’s doodles and it inspired her to start doodling her own, humming like Vi Hart while she draws…

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M has also started to like classical music – I’m still sticking it on in the background while they play and it seems to be sinking in.  The other day I put Peter and the Wolf on and M was talking about the different instruments being played and describing the characters.  I couldn’t believe it!  When I first started HE I wondered how on earth children would learn this stuff without it being taught to them, but it seems they just do, you just have to provide them with the opportunity to experience it.

The girls decided today that they were going to make cards for their cousin, M.  While they were working I decided to read the latest Aquila magazine to them, fully expecting to be booed off at any moment.  But they actually listened to me talking about Pompeii, volcanoes, tectonic plates and the Ring of Fire!  So after they had finished I got them going on making a Pompeii inspired name plaque which they really enjoyed…

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And lastly, our enormous sunflower has flowered!

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Moving on Up

On Monday we enjoyed the last pyjama day we’ll be having for a long time – although ‘enjoyed’ would be an overstatement for M: she is very ready to return to her classes and get a bit more stimulation!

We spent the day writing letters to Grandma, watching the Wizard of Oz, Go Diego Go and the Powerpuff Girls.  M was also working hard on her Sylvanian Family food cans.

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On Tuesday, D decided that it was her new bunnies’ birthday so they both sat to write cards for them.  M also made them a parachute and back pack (no pictures of those though, unfortunately).

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I had a break through with M that day.  She was getting angry about not understanding something (as per usual) and I made a shot in the dark comment about how she asks very intelligent questions.  I could almost see the tension in the room visibly shift and she admitted she didn’t think she was very clever at all?!!  The poor girl, she is so intelligent but because she questions EVERYTHING, she doesn’t think that she is!  I told her that she should never accept what someone tells her (even me!) without researching it herself.  I don’t want her to blindly follow anyone!  She seemed quite pleased with this new slant on things.  I think it’s a very good trait to have although the in-depth questions do try my patience sometimes…

On Tuesday afternoon I gave M advance warning that she didn’t have long to read her final book for the summer reading challenge.  She sat down and read her book in one sitting!  I love that she has completed the challenge with total self-motivation.  No cajoling from me was necessary at all!

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Later on it was the first ballet lesson of the term, which M was eager to return to.  The class is in full on rehearsals for the up and coming production of Alice in Wonderland.  I had a peek through the door and the choreography looks great.  M LOVES it!  Though she has said she’s scared that she won’t learn the dance moves in time for the performance, she still wants to go ahead and do it.  Feel the fear and do it anyway – she’s so brave!  The girl is really going from strength to strength.

As for D, she has been soaking up knowledge from Go Diego Go, The Magic School Bus and various iPad apps.  She has been getting M to show her how to do the Monument Valley puzzles and creating more buildings in Minecraft.  Mostly, she has been spending LOADS of time on Reading Eggs.  I downloaded the app onto our new iPad (it isn’t available on android unfortunately) and its much easier to use so she’s been on it non-stop.

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Her reading skills are far beyond what I imagined them to be and I think even she is surprised by what she can read now.  Her handwriting is also getting smaller as her fine motor skills improve, as this gorgeous letter shows…

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Our new bedtime routine is working very well.  We go up around 8pm, I read to them both until 9pm and then go downstairs, leaving them to do whatever they want to do and decide for themselves when they are ready for bed.  Sometimes they play on computers, sometimes they run around like a herd of elephants, and sometimes (like tonight) they lie on the bedroom floor and draw or write.  I’m surprised by how sensibly they take themselves off to bed and I’m also surprised by how easily D has settled into a later bedtime (10pm) with a later wake up time (7.30am) when she spent a year (A YEAR!!!) waking up at 4.30am…?!

Happy Sausages

We’ve had such a varied and happy week!  I feel so proud of their attitude to learning, to each other, and to our general family life.  Part of me wants to march back to their old schools and stick two fingers up to their old headmistresses, ha!

We’re still battling the nits unfortunately.  M managed to pass them on to me and I unwittingly passed them back to M again!  Who knew that nits don’t always make you itch?  I didn’t!  I’m all clear again but I’m still having to regularly comb through M’s hair.  It has meant that she missed out on a sleep over at a friend’s house (his Mum didn’t want to risk it just before school starts, fair enough) and an HE meet up.  So we’ve pretty much been in quarantine ALL week.  And it’s been lovely!  The girls have been engaged, occupied, laughing and learning.  I would have expected cabin fever to kick in by now but it hasn’t.

During one nit session, D was marching up and down chanting the 10 times table!  She’s really getting a grasp of numbers and how to manipulate them.  It’s amazing to see, especially as it’s mostly mental arithmetic at the moment.  She will just go quiet for a while and then say ‘Mum, did you know that 3 lots of 4 is 12 and 2 lots of 6 is 12 too?’  So this week she’s just starting to get a handle on multiplication.  I downloaded a Numberjacks Times Tables app which she loves.  Minecraft is really helping too – lots of blocks placed on blocks so she begins to see patterns: she said “so 3 lots of 3 are 9?” after a making a square window!

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She is also soaking up knowledge through Netflix – it is incredible what she has absorbed from watching Go Diego Go: she keeps spotting animals and saying “hey, that’s a red eyed tree frog!”.  The other day we were reading a book with a parrot in it and she said “that’s not a parrot it’s a scarlet macaw”.  I’m just waiting for her to start speaking Spanish now…  We started watching The Magic School Bus today, which is fantastic too and right up D’s street: the children in the story travel into space, into someone’s digestive system, under water etc etc.  Even M was pulled into watching it.

For D’s Love Bombing day she chose to do have a space themed day but today she decided she couldn’t wait for her special day and she wanted to do the activities now!  I had two prepared already.  The first is this book, Older Than the Stars – it is fabulous!  As you go through it, you learn how all the particles that were present at the big bang are part of us now.  M really enjoyed listening to it too.  We had a great conversation about death afterwards (no, really).

The other space activity I got out for D was this constellation geoboard.  I didn’t have time to print the constellation sheet off so we just started on our own.  She loved it!  Here you can see she’s made Taurus, The Big Dipper and Polaris, Orion and the Sun using pins and rubber bands!

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After D had finished we went straight off to her new swimming lessons, which she was initially scared about but was ecstatic after the lesson because her teacher had chanted her name while she swam :).

Now for M, who has been going from strength to strength this week.  She’s had to battle with nits for starters – highly frustrating and boring but she’s managing really well and is beginning to understand the importance of regular combing (she doesn’t seem to mind the itching and didn’t really grasp why we had to get rid of them!).

The biggest thing in my mind this week is to do with a book about pet rabbits that she borrowed from the library.  She tried on two separate occasions to read it and each time struggled with the words and got too angry to continue.  I was amazed that she even tried twice.  I was astounded when she picked it up a third time!  This has NEVER happened before.  I sat and offered to help her read it and both girls were rapt the entire time.  You can see where this is leading… M has now made a lovely list of the type of rabbit she’d like and what we’d have to buy to keep one.  There is a strong possibility that we will be getting pet rabbits.  I made sure to praise M afterwards for overcoming her anger at the book and she beamed at me :).

The other rather large story for M this week is that she now knows the truth about Santa.  One morning she asked me “why are all the Christmas presents from everyone we know and not from Santa?”.  I told her it was a long answer and that I’d talk to her about it later.  Meanwhile, I rushed off to consult like-minded people on Facebook.  Little did I know it would spark a thread that went on and on and on… Anyway, I gleaned some good ideas from it and had a little chat with her about it.  To be honest, I’ve never wanted to do the Santa thing but when M was 2 or 3 she insisted that he was real even when I said I didn’t believe in him.  Tsk.  So I probed further with M about her thoughts on Santa and she guessed herself that he wasn’t real, she didn’t even seem too bothered.  A great big cheeky smile appeared on her face when I told her I bought the presents and hid them around the house… wonder what she is planning…

In other news, I have been spending a lot of time with M creating food cans for Sylvanian Families,  Good God it’s fiddly but we’re getting there…

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M’s also been setting up obstacle races for D…

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And playing dominoes…

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Making a floating island in Minecraft and playing on an Escher inspired app called Monument Valley.  M has solved all the puzzles and finished the game in a day!

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What, I think, has helped the most in our family life this week is that we’ve had a re-jig of our structure.  Not that we really had much structure, but I realised after 4 nights of D not being able to go to sleep that she really needed a later bedtime. However, this also meant that M would miss out on her special evening time with me because they’d be going up at the same time, and D would miss her morning special time because she’d be getting up later.  So we’ve now arranged it so that they both have an hour to spend just with me each day, doing whatever they want.  D doesn’t seem too fussed about special time, probably because she is more vocal when she needs attention than M, and also because she’s younger so is used to sharing me anyway.  However, M is really thriving on it.  She beams whenever I mention it and I think it’s also helping her anger.  So perhaps lack of attention was the problem all along…

Love Bombing with M

Love Bombing sounds a bit like some sort of porn but it isn’t, honest.  It’s the title of a book written by Oliver James that I read recently.  The basic premise of Love Bombing is that for a day or two (or longer if you wish) you hand over control to your child and you shower them with attention.  This enables you to reconnect with each other, which is often difficult to do in our busy family lives.  No one else joins in – no partners, no siblings.  Just you and one child.  Your child has complete control over what you do/where you go during this time.  After reading the book, implementing Love Bombing plus daily half hour top ups pretty much sorts out most behavioural problems occurring!

So I explained all this to M and her little face lit up :).  I stipulated she could have a day with me (some do an overnight too but there’s no way our budget will stretch to that at the moment) and she could choose what she wanted to do, as long as it didn’t cost too much.  After thinking about it for a few days she decided she wanted to go foraging for berries!  So this Saturday we went to Morden Park!  D was a little wobbly at the thought of both of us going out without her but she rallied at the thought of having her own special day another time, and at spending the day with J.

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We spent two hours walking around Morden Park, picking haw berries, elder berries, blackberries and rosehips.  M adored every minute! She became very good at berry spotting too. She chose to have two doughnuts from a bakery for lunch and then believe it or not, we were too tired to forage anymore.  M tentatively asked if we could go to a toy shop so we headed back to Wimbledon but then M decided she’d rather play Minecraft for an hour so I sat beside her with a cup of tea while she played.

After that we both felt refreshed enough to head out again (M gorgeously bursting with joy at the prospect of sitting on the front seat in the top deck of the bus!) and we spent a long time window shopping in Ely’s jewellery department before heading up to the toys.  She obviously didn’t intend for me to buy her anything but I thought I would as it had been such a cheap day out!

On our way back to the bus stop we spotted the library and M asked if we could go in and choose some more books for her reading challenge… eh?!  So we made a quick dash in there to grab two books before it closed.

M was so full of joy all day that I felt quite emotional at times – it was so lovely to have her all to myself.

A glorious day!

Construction and Science

We’ve had a great couple of days of construction!  I wrote in my last post that the obsession with our new computers was fading and the girls were ready to try new things but first of all, I want to show you how HEALTHY their work on Minecraft has been over the last two days. Not for them the zombied look of a child who’s been staring at a screen too long and is unable to communicate with the outside world.  The picture below shows a house that M began building in one of her worlds, which she copied from the Minecraft Construction book.  M did the basic work of laying down the walls and windows and then I joined in to help her with some of the details she was struggling on and then D finished the final wall and the roof!  I was very impressed with how they worked together (and with me), how they compared their building with the book’s pictures, how they continued patterns, and particularly how they problem solved when they came across a problem.  It took two days to build and is now finished!

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A lot of us unschoolers believe that technology and TV can live alongside crafts/arts/reading/the outdoors and whatever other interests you might have.  So rather than limiting screen time you can just allow it to be another aspect of your child’s world.  This does mean that you might have to allow your child to play endlessly on Minecraft and Sonic Dash (ahem) but once they’ve satiated their need/reached the level they were aiming for etc and are secure in the knowledge that the screen won’t be taken away from them and limited again then they feel comfortable enough to wander off and do other things.

As well as Minecraft construction, M has been busy making a marble run and she dug out a lollipop stick house which was never completed and we stuck the walls together.  Just the roof, door and windows to go!  She’s also been spending time with her older cousin who has endless energy for football, frisbee and obstacle courses.

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D has been busy baking some Nutella cookies, drawing a treasure map for J, writing and doing more sums.  She was also inspired to make a picture using lollipop sticks after seeing M playing with them.

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I haven’t got around to doing my Emilia Reggia inspired strewing yet.  I keep walking into our dining room, looking at the mess and walking straight back out again :).  However, I did manage to put together a science box (we already have a craft box, a paint box and a junk modelling box) after being inspired by a Facebook thread about it.  This had the added bonus that I could clear a lot of the crap science supplies out of the kitchen cupboards.  So I’m hoping the sausages will be inspired to have a rummage through and mess about with a few ingredients etc.  Here’s what I put in my box – some things are from old experiments and some are yet to try:

  • Vials
  • Magnifying glasses
  • A prism
  • Magnets
  • Spaghetti
  • Marshmallows
  • Sugar cubes
  • Home made bubble blowers
  • Glycerin
  • A thaumatrope
  • Effervescent tablets
  • Baking soda
  • Food colouring
  • White vinegar
  • Cornflour
  • Mentos
  • Starch
  • Balloons
  • Pipettes
  • Glass jars
  • A thermometer
  • A tape measure
  • A measuring jug
  • A chid-safe guillotine
  • Labels
  • Stirrers
  • And an enormous bag of electrical stuff from earlier experiments which includes: LEDs, copper wire, plastic coated wire, crimps, electrical tape, battery connectors and batteries.

I want this box to have non-harmful supplies so the sausages can dig in whenever they please.  If anyone has any further suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Nits and Stuff

This week we’ve been watching a lot of films.  One of the reasons for this is because of our new Netflix account, but the main reason is because of NITS!  M has nits! She started itching on Monday and we’ve been using the Nitty Gritty comb daily since then.  She’s never had nits before and it’s pretty gross but nobody else has caught them yet thank goodness.

According to the NHS website, other members of the family don’t have to be treated ‘just in case’ and neither do children have to be quarantined so apart from watching lots of telly while I’m combing the nits out, life has been carrying on as usual.

On Monday, despite the pouring rain, we went out to Kidsfest at Merton Abbey Mills.  We were hoping to have a go at arts, crafts, pottery, cake making and archaeological digging.  Unfortunately none of the events advertised were running (apart from a table of clay outside the pottery shop) which was very disappointing.  We did however, discover a rock shop where the girls had lots of fun choosing rocks to buy, making bracelets and discovering what their birth stones are.

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There seems to be a slight movement away from computers over the last few days: D is continuing to love her sums and asked to get an old workbook out and her maths exercise book too.

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She also helped me to peel the vegetables to make her favourite bolognese.

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M has also been busy after discovering lots of forgotten things in the craft box.  These were all her own idea and now she wants to hang them from the kitchen window.

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On Wednesday we went to the Carshalton group’s meet up in Devonshire Avenue Nature Area.  Unfortunately, M’s new friend couldn’t make it but both girls had a fantastic time – D found a chalk stone and set to work colouring in the wooden blocks.  Later, she asked me to write sums out for her to answer!  Meanwhile, M spent 2 hours foraging for haw berries!  I’d never even heard of them before but one of the HE ladies handed out a recipe for haw sauce which I want to have a go at.

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Now that the sausages are getting a little less obsessed with our new computers, I need to get going on strewing some things to inspire them to start a new project.  I recently read this post about setting up a Reggio activity (I’d never even heard of Emilia Reggio so now I have more reading to do!), so I’m going to have a go at that next.  Now I’m being badgered to help M set up a marble run so I’m off!

Our Life is a Summer Holiday

It really is, no really!  We’re in a permanent holiday state, so although we returned from holiday last week, we’re really still oh holiday anyway.  That’s not to say we’re skipping in meadows all week: we have our busy days, our still days, our ups and our downs.  But life is pretty good and we know we’re privileged to live such a life.

It’s been a lovely week.  LOTS of Minecraft learning together with M – we have finally braved adventuring out of the shelter/mine, made a map, discovered a village, tamed a horse and so much more.  We tried and failed to connect to M’s cousin in Minecraft online but we’ll try again soon.  J has yet to be convinced of how much learning can be done through Minecraft but he’s getting there.  Today he had a little play on it so hopefully he’ll come to accept it’s value over time.  He also had a go on M’s Lego Technic Car Racing app and afterwards M was much more ready to join him in a game he suggested (Frisbee) rather than asking to continue on the computer.

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D is also enjoying playing Minecraft in creative mode.  She builds LOADS of structures and it seems to have replaced Lego as a favourite game… for now.  Her love of mental maths continues and she regularly asks me for sums as early as 6am – I have to try very hard to appear enthusiastic.

While all this computer work is going on, I sit and learn alongside them both for a while but I’m also using the time to get rid of piles of accumulated ‘crap’ around the house, catch up on admin and read my novel.  The house is very peaceful at the moment and when we’re all busy in the lounge I’ve been putting Swan Lake on in the background.  This version is narrated by Angela Rippon and both girls have expressed an interested in it so are obviously soaking it up while they play.

J has also been encouraging his nephew to come over and play before he heads off to university in a few weeks.  The girls have loved having him over and he’s been teaching them football skills and playing endless games of hide and seek, pirates and chase.

On Wednesday we met up with our friends from 3 Kids and a Gluestick at Devonshire Avenue Nature Area.  Jo had spent 5 hours the night before putting a nature trail together – I was very impressed!  M was determined to complete all the cards which included a feather, a hawthorn leaf, a spider and many more.  

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D lost interest after a while and found a little den under some trees from where she could be heard singing her heart out like Maria von Trapp.  M was over the moon because she made friends with another girl and she can’t wait to meet up again next week.  D struggled to play with the group and once she’d finished singing she spent quite a bit of time on my knee, asking to go home.  I’m assuming this problem will pass as she gets older: she does seem to get too overwhelmed with other children.  I had thought this was a group issue but after a friend came over to play on Thursday I’m not so sure.  D had been longing for this girl to come and play for nearly a year but after an hour in her company she was soon retreating into imaginary play with her bunnies, and her friend wasn’t very keen to join in.  M also had a friend over to play too and they had a great time making a ‘ship’ on the climbing frame and then showing each other what they had learnt on Minecraft.

Looking ahead to September we have lots of new things starting: D will be attending swimming lessons at Dolphin Swim School (we’ve cancelled our David Lloyd membership); we’ll be trying out an HE club in Leatherhead where they’re learning about Africa this term (much to D’s delight!) and there’s a possibility of joining in a Christmas show; M is continuing her ballet class and will be part of an Alice in Wonderland production in November; M is also starting a climbing wall class and of course Judo and pottery will be continuing.  I’m also hoping to fit in a visit to London at some point, D is desperate to go back, she loves the city!

Comparing our states of minds to last summer, I would say we’ve all calmed down a lot – I’m feeling less need to occupy them with ‘educational’ activities all day.  M still has her moments of fear driven anger when she doesn’t understand something but I think she is gradually getting the idea that it’s ok to learn.  She asked me about pollination yesterday and after she got angry at my poor attempt to explain it to her, she then allowed me to show her a YouTube clip with a much better explanation – this is definitely a step forward.  Phew!