Three animal crackers complete with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles … that’s all it took to sabotage our entire day today.
Little Bear has a long history with food dyes and other additives, and I’m better acquainted with that history than anyone. In fact, I go to great lengths to keep anything containing food coloring out of her pantry and out of both girls’ bodies. But the girls begged for a treat this morning, we had some frosted animal crackers on hand, and … well, a tiny smattering of rainbow nonpareils couldn’t do that much damage, could they?
We kicked off the day with an hour of shared reading time, followed by a couple of rounds of Baby Bear’s new Beleduc Colorful Caterpillars Game. That much of the day, at least, went according to plan. Yes, Little Bear was noticeably more active and impulsive than usual. (After all, she doesn’t usually spent story time hanging upside down or repeatedly falling out of the recliner!) But both girls enjoyed today’s read-alouds, and the game proved an instant favorite.
Eventually, though, it was time to put the game away and move on to the real work of the day. That’s when things went south quickly. We began with what should have been a page of easy review in The Reading Lesson, a story that Little Bear had read several times last week with fluency and expression. On Friday, she did so well that I would have recorded a video clip for grandparents had our camera chosen to cooperate. Today, though, I might as well have asked her to read text in a foreign language. She missed word after word, and when I’d ask her to try again, she’d randomly jump to a totally different line. After several failed attempts to get her to follow the text with her finger, I finally dug out a ruler and used it to help her focus on only the line she was supposed to be reading. And after three more attempts with the ruler, we finally made it through the lone page of “review.”
In retrospect, we probably should have stopped there, but I didn’t want to end on a less-than-successful note, so we pressed on. Unfortunately, the first page of “new” content was a page of random, disjointed phrases written solely to provide phonetic reading practice. Even on a good day, she dislikes these pages. (According to Little Bear, “Words are supposed to mean something!” And though I generally like this book, I have to admit that she’s got a good point!)
Today, however, her usual angst over meaningless phrases/clauses was multiplied by a factor of at least ten. It took us five minutes to plow through two phrases — a sum total of seven words. … Not because the reading was too difficult, but because she couldn’t get past the text itself. The first phrase, she observed, was actually a sentence and, therefore, should have started with a capital letter. The second was only a phrase and, consequently, should not have ended with a period. The first sentence was, in fact, a command — “Put it here.” Yet both “it” and “here” were ambiguous, prompting a veritable flood of questions.
By the time she got to the third phrase, I found myself saying through gritted teeth, “These are random phrases. They have no meaning. Do NOT ask any more questions. Just read them!” (One might as well tell a butterfly not to flit or tell a bumblebee not to buzz as tell a curious 5-year-old not to ask questions.) By the sixth phrase, I found myself giving her a second dose of her usual Omega-3 supplement along with a dose of Focus Factors and brewing a cup of Tension Tamer tea for myself! And by the end of the page, I was ready to cry. She, however, wanted to push on, so we tried one more new page with similar results.
“The words won’t be still long enough for me to read them!” she lamented.
A good hour had passed since her “minimal” exposure to food coloring, and by this time, I could feel muscle spasms periodically shaking her whole body as she sat in my lap. I knew then that written work simply was not going to happen and quietly put her Spell & Write Kindergarten book back on the shelf. Instead, we shifted our focus to Modern Curriculum Press Phonics: Level A, which we’ve been doing orally. The first page consisted of spelling short /a/ words orally, a task she completed with relative ease while bouncing up and down on the exercise ball. The next page required her to read short /a/ words and match them with rhyming words. Again, she had no difficulty completing the task, although limiting herself to the task proved impossible. Instead of just matching the words she read to rhyming words pictured in the book, she insisted upon supplying entire word families of rhymes. The third page required her to read sentences and choose the best word to complete each one. Inevitably, she’d read the sentence correctly, choose the correct word to complete it, spell the chosen word correctly orally, and point to an entirely different word when asked to point to the correct word in print.
… We cut phonics short and moved on to math. We started with her much-loved Life of Fred–Butterflies text, but even there ran in to problems. When asked to count to 100 by 5s, she’d lose track of what she was doing and begin counting by 10s. When asked to count by 2s, she’d lapse into counting by 5s — “…22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 35, 40, 45 …” When asked to read or show time on a clock, she’d reverse the minute and hour hands. When asked to subtract, she’d add. But the day’s low came when she was asked to add 30+1.
The dreaded deer-in-headlights look spreading across her face, she insisted that she didn’t know how to add 30+1. “Yes, you do,” I maintained. “You could do it when you were three. You could do it when you were four. You can do it now.”
After much hemming and hawing, she finally ventured a guess: “40?” she asked.
“No, that would be 30+10,” I said. “Try again.”
“50?” she queried. “65?”
I handed her a box of C-rods. “Show me 30,” I said.
She pulled out three 10-rods.
“Now add 1 to it,” I encouraged.
She pulled out a 5-rod.
I then removed everything except a handful of unit cubes and 10-rods.
“Try again,” I encouraged. “Show me 30.”
That much she got right.
“Now, show me 1,” I continued. She held up a cube.
“Now put them together,” I said. “How many do you have?”
“Three tens and a 1,” she replied.
“Very good,” I said. “Now, what number do you get when you have 3 tens and a one?”
“I already said 40!” she replied indignantly.
… We put the rods away. …
“Just count for me,” I pressed. “What number comes after 30?”
“I don’t know!” she insisted. “35?”
Eventually, I resorted to writing 30 + 1 on the MagnaDoodle, and she finally managed to solve the problem — at which point she dissolved into tears.
“Hey, you did it! You got it right!” I said in an effort to comfort her.
“But my brain isn’t working!” she cried. “I feel like it’s full of clouds, and I can’t think through them!”
… We shelved math for the day and instead turned our focus to some very easy riddles and logic puzzles. Those, at least, she was able to solve with few issues. Then, I handed her the iPad and let her and Baby Bear watch an episode of Magic School Bus while I fixed lunch.
After lunch, she retreated into her room to play with MagnaTiles, and I left her to play. We’d barely made a dent in our planned work for the day, but her brain truly was not working properly, and no amount of pleading, cajoling, or redirecting was going to make it work at that point in time.
Thankfully, we had a swim date scheduled for mid-afternoon, so both girls were able to burn off some energy, enjoy the sunshine, and play with a cousin.
By early evening, both girls were visibly exhausted. I fed them an early dinner and got them ready for bed. Then, we did a floor puzzle, played an abbreviated version of their Children of the World Memory Game, read a few more stories, and called it a night. I turned out the lights half an hour earlier than usual with not so much as a peep of protest. I’m hoping for a better day tomorrow, but trying to brace myself for a repeat of the day. When Little Bear reacts to food additives, the ensuing “brain fog” can easily last three or more days — a ridiculously high price to pay for a few bites of animal crackers. Needless to say, such “treats” are once again banished from our house. How I wish I could just as easily banish their side effects!