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Lucy Tuesday, take six: The Naturalist

9 Oct

Lucy and I have both been under the weather this week – me with a cold, and Lucy with her umbrella.  She, quite literally, loves to be “under the weather” – any opportunity to break out her ladybug umbrella.  So when I awoke to a torrential downpour earlier this week, a puddle stomping morning for Lucy Tuesday seemed appropriate.  Plus, we were down a car and it seemed a good day to stick close to home.


Lucy had her rain boots on before I could say puddle and we were off to explore the hood to see what new creatures came with the rains.  We barely made it off of the front porch when Lucy noticed a beetle that had flipped upside down and was struggling to turn over.  I wrote him off for dead, but Lucy insisted that if we helped to turn him “right up side” (her version of right side up), perhaps he could walk again.  And so we began our day by rescuing Mr. Beetle by placing him sunny side up.  Less than five steps later, and still on the porch, we discovered a frog nesting in one of our flowerpots, soaking in the cool, damp soil.  After a brief conversation with La Rana, whom Lucy insisted was a girl, we finally made it onto the driveway.  By then, the rain had stopped and the sun was blazing, but we carried on in search of muddy puddles.

Thanks to heavy rains, puddles were abundant.  Lucy wondered allowed if any fish lived in the puddles.  When I explained that it was unlikely because they would need to travel from a lake or an ocean or a river to get to the puddles, she pointed out that crabs accomplished this feat daily.  And so we decided to check each and every puddle just in case there might be a fish (or a dolphin) because maybe, well, you just never know.  When the puddles came up empty, Lucy began taking notice of how much water filled each hole and wanted to know why one boot was covered in puddles more than the other.  I threw the question back at her and she surmised that it must be because one boot wasn’t as good of a swimmer as the other and therefore needed to stay in shallower water.  I decided to forego the opportunity to teach about depth and rolled with the possibility that perhaps one boot just needed some swim lessons.

In between puddles, we scaled giant rocks and crossed rushing rivers and happened upon some friends that looked strikingly like us:

And so we danced with our shadows for a bit, waving hello and finally goodbye and set off in search of more “natures.”  Lucy pointed out the billowing trees and questioned why they were moving.  We determined that the howler monkeys were not close enough to swing in these branches and therefore, the movement must have been caused by either the zanate or the uraca (both birds common to Nicaragua).  And then we happened upon this beauty roosting in the lush green leaves.


As the puddles dried in the scorching sun, we made our way back home, but not before Lucy identified some letters on the sign to our entrance and said hello to the neighbor’s dog.

Once home, Lucy was quick to shed her boots and requested an “art project,” a favorite pastime for us both.  But I was beginning to run out of creative ideas (and materials) and so I did a quick Google search for preschooler art projects and found this recipe for homemade goop.  It seemed perfect, as I even had a little bit of leftover food coloring.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize, until it was too late, that cornstarch and corn flour are not the same thing.  We’d already begun to mix the mess and so I let Lucy roll with it because really, goop is fun, no matter the recipe.  Instead of watching the properties shift from liquid to solid, as promised by the original recipe, we explored color mixing and watched blues and reds transform into none other but…purple!  We made handprints and drew our names and shapes in the goop, too.  Lucy delighted in the mess for far longer than I expected and even managed to keep the walls goop-free.

By the time we were done playing and cleaned up, it was time for lunch and so we ate gallo pinto and pollo with stained hands and headed up for nap.


You got schooled

13 Apr

I receive a lot of questions regarding school options here in San Juan, so here goes…  You basically have 4 options:

Public, Catholic, private, or homeschooling:

As Lucy hasn’t started school yet, it wouldn’t be fair of me to rate or judge the various options.  However, I can share that I’ve heard that there is not too much of a difference between the public and the catholic schools here.  These schools have primarily local Nicaraguan children, as well as some older expat kids.  Students are expected to wear uniforms and they attend a partial day.  The hour is determined by the age.  Schools are spread throughout town.  Classes appear large and I have also heard that resources are limited; however, the kids I’ve seen appear happy and healthy!

Our friends, Keith and Kelly, have their three kids enrolled in a local school and have written some beautiful, insightful and funny posts about their experiences in Gringa in a Nicaraguan school: A Room Mother’s Perspective and in their most recent newsletter. [FYI –  these guys are also doing some pretty amazing mission work via Teethsavers and Dress a Girl Around the World.  Please visit their blog Hope for Nica, to learn more!]

Homeschooling is a very personal decision.  It’s a huge responsibility for parents or a hired tutor.  But if you plan to move back to the U.S. at some point, this could be your best option, as some programs are certified, allowing your child to integrate right back into the North American school system.

I currently know of 2 private schools here in San Juan, both run by Expat women: Adventures in Learning and Explore!  Follow this link to read more about Adventures in Learning.  I hope to share more about Explore soon, as well.

Adventures in Learning

13 Apr

Julie Speier, Head of School, opened Adventures in Learning as a pre-school after moving to San Juan 4 years ago.  In that time, the school has grown to include a k-2 multi-aged approach to learning, swim lessons, and other enrichment activities.   Originally from Ohio, Julie studied Early Childhood Education at Boston University and later went on to become both a teacher and an administrator at Cincinnati Country Day School before landing in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua with her fiance and two daughters.  Below is info on Adventures in Learning including schedule, philosophy, and rates.

Adventures in Learning Class Schedule, 2012

Benefits of our multiage approach:

This stimulating and multiage approach is geared to meet the learning needs of toddlers through primary age school children.  With two teachers working together we are able to accommodate the learning styles and developmental needs of all the children.

Free play is a crucial time for the ever important task of learning good social skills.  It also serves as an indicator of the children’s interests, which can then be translated into lesson plans by the teachers.  Children learn to be imaginative, communicative, cooperative, assertive and fair with a bit of guidance.  This is where the children are developing their sense of autonomy, their own moral compass, interests, experiences, questions, and problem solving skills!  I find the multiage class especially beneficial in the socialization process of children; it encourages empathy, compassion, patience and acceptance of differences.

The academic needs are met during group time and work room time.  The Focus program teaches phonics, listening skills, vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing for all levels, each child is encouraged to remain in “Group Time” with the teacher until the lesson lasts too long or becomes too challenging for their stage of development.  Singing, reading books, asking questions and reading the note of the day encourages whole language understanding as well as providing countless opportunities for mathematic concepts and practice.

One of the greatest benefits of a multiage classroom results when students remain in the same class for more than one year. When children have this opportunity, there is a minimum of beginning-of-the-year transition time because most of the students know the procedures and the teacher knows the students so well. Instead of spending weeks getting to know all the students personally and academically each year, our year round, multiage approach allows for real learning year round. Encouraging continuing students to mentor the new ones or younger ones in classroom procedures makes for even less transition time for the new students. Procedures do not need to be explained repeatedly because many of the students already know how the class “works” and are able to teach the younger students where to find supplies, how to write, how to use the tape, where to store personal items, how to collaborate during work time, and so on.

The familiarity of students with each other is another benefit of having students continue on in the same multiage classroom. When students work alongside each other day after day, even the youngest, shyest children become comfortable asking for help from older students. As older students teach younger ones the procedures, read them stories, and help them write their names, they develop valuable leadership skills and nurturing behaviors.  The multiage philosophy accepts that students of a particular age or grade will be working at a variety of academic and developmental levels. This acceptance is supported by the set-up of an environment which offers materials and learning strategies which include individual as well as group needs. Thematic lessons and concepts may be presented to the group as a whole, with different expectations for students of different levels and abilities. Students may work in flexible, ever-changing small groups based on ability rather than age or grade, so cross-age collaborations are accepted and encouraged. As a result, the lines between grades and ages start to become invisible. Students sometimes work in groups delineated by age, grade, or ability, but the overall structure is one which looks at the children as one group of learners with varying levels of needs. The success of this combination of individualized learning, small group collaborations, and whole group interactions is dependent on the development of self-direction and independence in the children. This may be acquired by setting up centers with task cards, bins of individualized learning games, a classroom library of leveled books, shelves of math manipulative materials and games, a science discovery center with task cards, an art supply shelf, and a supply shelf with paper, staplers, tape, markers, and pencil sharpeners which children can access as needed. When students are not dependent on their teacher to meet all their needs, they are empowered to take ownership of the classroom environment and to develop individual responsibility for the classroom community. The interplay between older and younger students in the same classroom can facilitate this development of self-directed behavior as older students provide models for younger students.

The whole language philosophy is a wonderfully compatible fit with the multiage classroom, especially in relation to the ring of authenticity brought to the classroom. In the real world outside of the classroom we seldom, if ever, find ourselves working with people who are all our same age. In any work environment, there are those who are more experienced and those who are still learning the ropes. In a multiage classroom, the older, more experienced students become mentors for younger students who are still learning what school is all about.  In this way we will continue to meet the needs of all of our students.

How much does it cost?

Well, as the children grow and develop, so will our school.  We will now be offering a whole day program, which can be broken down into two sessions: morning program and the afternoon program.  We do understand that cost is a consideration to everyone and to that end we have not increased our tuition in 3 years. We are paying additional teachers and employees in order to keep student/teacher ratio low.  In order to do this we also have to ask that parents volunteer their services and outside expertise to the school…more on that later.

The cost of the year round, full time program is $250 per month. At this time the full day and afternoon programs are for children ages 4-7 years old. If your child or family is not ready for the full time school day then we also offer the following options, which may best suit your family’s situation:

Option 1:  $80 per month for 2 morning sessions or 2 afternoon sessions per week

Option 2: $120 per month for 3 morning sessions or 3 afternoon sessions per week

Option 3: $175 per month for 5 morning sessions or 5 afternoon sessions per week

Option 4: $120 per month for 2 full days per week

Option 5: $180 per month for 3 full days per week

Option 6: $250 per month for 5 full days per week

The drop in rate for children who are not enrolled in the school is $20 per morning or afternoon session or $30 for the full day.  The drop in rate for enrolled students who just want an extra morning or afternoon here or there is $12.50 per session or $20 for the full day. There is also an enrollment/registration fee of $100 for new students.

The fee for late pick up is now one Cordoba per minute late during the lunch hour, if you want lunch given to your child it is an additional $2.  We will not feed your child lunch without being asked to do so by you.  The late fee for pick up of students after 4pm is two Cordoba’s per minute. If you are late, you will need to pay the teacher whose schedule and time has been disrupted as result of your tardiness…this money should be paid directly to the teacher who remains to monitor your child at the time of pick up.

We do understand that many of our students have the opportunity for extended vacations throughout the school year, however we have our monthly commitments that do not disappear because a student is not attending.  For this reason we shall allow up to 1 month vacation per calendar year. Beyond 1 month all fees you have registered for are due.

We require that parents read and sign the parent handbook (which will be provided on the first day of school, Jan. 9, 2012), so that everyone knows and is aware of our schools policies.  We will then total the annual tuition for your child, which can be paid in full or broken down into 12 monthly payments, due promptly and in full at the start of each month. Payments can be made by cash, local back check or PayPal.  There will be a 10% discount for multi-children families.

For more information, please contact Julie Speier at

Students at Adventures in Learning had an "Agua de Coco Stand". They learned about fundraising then cut down fresh coconuts from the trees in the yard for their stand.

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