Second Grade Math – Can You Do It?

This is a long post but worth it if you are interested in education!

Math Homework

In second grade, Sydney gets math homework four days per week, sometimes receives a one-page sheet on reading or writing, and is expected to read on her own 20 minutes per day. While I don’t remember ever having homework in grade school at all, I don’t find this to be too much as the homework is easy and she can complete it (sans reading, which we do anyway) in 20 minutes.

Sydney was also selected as one of three students in her class of 12 to participate in a 45-minute advanced class once per week, nine students in total from the three second-grade classes. That is not a long class but each week Sydney gets an additional 2 – 4 pages of homework, which is much more difficult, from this class. Here is one page from this week’s homework. Can you do it?

Struggling With Homework

Last week Sydney came home with homework that was related to price comparisons. Which is cheaper, this size yogurt for $1 or this size yogurt for $2? However, the problems were relatively complex and Sydney didn’t really understand the basic concept. She was not able to do her homework on her own, which is typical for her advanced class math homework.

So I worked with her on this for about an hour, which is also typical. We did simple problems that were relatively easy and more complex problems where it was not easy to compare. Here is the third of three practice sheets I created for Sydney to help her learn these concepts. There are six problems and you compare the left side to the right side.

How did you do? By the third of these sheets, Sydney was able to do them all.

Negative Repercussions

After doing this homework last Friday, we went to Dawn and Kayla’s house (our only pandemic buddies for indoor gatherings). Kayla asked a question about math, I started to help her work through the problem, and Sydney said “I don’t like math.”

I waited 24 hours to respond and then asked Sydney why she said she did not like math. “It is too hard,” was the response. “What is too hard: regular math class, regular math homework, advanced math class, or advanced math homework?” The answer, as you guessed, was advanced math homework.

My belief with all kids’ activities, whether it be soccer, ballet, or math, is that it is more important they like something than that they are good at it. At least at this age. Sydney’s answer was upsetting to me. And I very much understood why she thought the advanced math homework was too difficult. So I made a deal with Sydney. “I will help you with advanced math homework so it is not as difficult and if there are some subjects you don’t understand, we will leave those questions blank.” We were both satisfied with this plan.

Positive Results

That was last weekend and we have not done advanced math homework since. However, when Sydney came home on Wednesday she told me that in advanced math she had answered a question correctly that the other eight kids got wrong. It went something like this:

“Bob purchased eight bananas for $2.00 and Elizabeth purchased 12 bananas for $3.00. Who found the better price on bananas?” The teacher then asked “Who thinks Bob found the better price on bananas?” Most of the class raised their hands. “Who thinks Elizabeth had the better price on bananas?” A couple kids raised their hands. “Who has a different answer?” Sydney raised her hand and explained the answer.

So what does that tell me?

  • I was very proud of Sydney. She was proud herself.
  • Our extra work on last week’s homework paid off.
  • Other parents are not spending the same amount of time on the advanced homework with their kids.
  • It is a balancing act to learn while keeping it fun.

Harry Potter and a Father-Daughter Relationship

Sydney and I finished the 7th and final book of the Harry Potter series.

Sydney reading the last Harry Potter book to her animal and doll friends.

The books are long, with the seventh book coming in at 759 pages. They are complex, dark, and increasingly violent. They are also amazing. I will miss Harry Potter, even though it is the second time I have read the series, and will miss the bonding Sydney and I enjoyed by reading the series together.

J.K. Rowling did an amazing job with the books, in part because she wrote them with an expectation her readers would advance along with the books. Harry Potter was 11 when he entered Hogwarts and a case could be made that is the age when readers should start the books. My favorite website on this subject, Common Sense Media, recommends the first book for those aged 8+. The strategy was a good one for those reading the books as Ms. Rowling wrote them. But the problem is that Sydney and I started the series when Sydney was six years old and finished 10 months later when she is seven and a half. So this seventh book was pretty advanced, both in complexity and in subject matter.

Sydney and I read the series together. She would read a certain number of pages then I would read the same number of pages. When Sydney was reading, I would help her sound out words. When either of us was reading, we would stop and discuss topics or even talk about how the author was using certain strategies to make the book better.

I started the books with Sydney because kids in her class started reading them or watching the movies. Perhaps it was a little early, although Sydney never had nightmares or other concerns about the book. But it certainly was an amazing experience for the two of us to read the series together and I am glad she did not take it up later when she would have read the books on her own.

Still to come: the Harry Potter movies!

I Cook Just Like My Mom

I have vivid memories of my mom’s cooking. Perhaps these are somewhat warped from time but here is what stands out from childhood dinners:

  • My mom had a small stable of dishes she repeated over and over. This included spaghetti, lasagna, meat loaf, tacos, and beans and wieners. I liked all of these.
  • We always sat at the table and ate together, without distractions such as the television.
  • There was always a vegetable and always a small, moderately proportioned dessert.
  • We rarely ate in restaurants and I can’t remember ordering food for takeout.
  • Almost every meal seemed to take exactly 30 minutes. My mom started cooking at 5:00 PM, my dad got home at 5:25 PM, and we ate dinner at 5:30 PM. Lasagna was the one exception.

Now, the reality is I don’t cook just like my mom. There are actual some distinct differences. But I do find that I inherited some of her cooking traits.

  • I also have a small stable of dishes I repeat over and over. Sydney never seems to complain about this but, when I do get creative, she is excited.
  • We always eat at the table together without distractions. We don’t have a TV.
  • I always include a vegetable and moderate dessert. In fact, for me the vegetable is often the highlight.
  • We rarely eat out in restaurants and I rarely order food to take home.
  • My meals also seem to take around 30 minutes, and although we don’t have a set start time I am usually aiming for around 5:30 PM!

Fascinatingly, Sydney never complains about my cooking, the limited menu, or sitting down at the dinner table and having conversation with her dad. I think that just as my mom adapted to the situation and created family-friendly meals that appealed to her kids, I have done the same. It seems to work for Sydney.

This dinner, called Haystack, is not part of my regular menu. I remembered it from my childhood and introduced it to Sydney recently. Tortilla chips with chili (beans in Sydney’s case), cheese, lettuce, tomato, and olives.

Winter Holiday During the Pandemic

Our winter break was different this year, primarily because, due to the pandemic, we elected to skip traveling home to Washington.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasing one-week holiday break. Our holiday started two days early. On Wednesday evening, December 16, school was canceled for the following day (and shortly thereafter for two days) due to an impending snow storm. We got about 8 – 10 inches, which was more in one fall than we have had in over two years now in New York. The highlight was sledding at a golf course just on the border of Sea Cliff, which has a dozen really nice hills that fills with local kids.

We then went skiing for two days, with two nights in a B&B, before returning to Sea Cliff for Christmas. Sydney’s friend Kayla and her single mom Dawn – two of the four people in our pandemic indoor hangout bubble – invited us to come over on Christmas Eve, stay for the night, and open presents the next morning. While I missed being with family, it was definitely fun to share a kid-focused holiday with another kid.

Reading what Santa wrote in response to their letter accompanying milk and cookies.

Christmas morning breakfast

Sydney received several games (Santa screwed up and gave her one we already have!), a pair of homemade stilts Sydney is still learning to use, and a fold up ping pong table that goes on our dining room table. I have to remember to get Sydney gifts she can actually play with on the spot. Three of her favorite gifts were a set of 10 doll clothes for her one real doll (from Aunt Sharon and Uncle Dave), a very basic electronic notepad (from Tantip), and a Harry Potter lego kit, which we are only about 1/8th done with.

Putting together a Harry Potter lego kit. I was worried it was too complicated but Sydney loved it.

We were smart to return home from Dawn and Kayla’s house around noon as it gave us the rest of the day on our own. We met Oriol and Oviti in the park (where we also saw our neighbors Grant and Everett), watched a Christmas movie, and had make-your-own pizza for dinner. The next day we met up with Norah and her dad Dave and the following day we drove into the city to meet up with Tantip and Faye to end our winter break.

Allan and Sydney on the ski slopes

With Skiing in New York the Overnight is Half the Fun

We chose not to travel home for Christmas during the pandemic, so instead I opted for a two-night, two-day ski trip to Hunter Mountain.

Hunter Mountain is the first good-sized ski mountain near us and is three hours away. That, for me, is too long for a day trip. Given the pandemic, we purchased our tickets in advance, brought our own lunch to the slopes, and selected two weekdays for our skiing. (The crowds picking up our tickets and getting on lifts were still a bit suspect.)

Sydney did well skiing. We skied about five hours each day with few breaks. It took most of the time to get caught up to where Sydney had been last January when she last skied. However, by the end she was learning to parallel turn on moderate slopes, a big win.

While the skiing was fun, I think Sydney enjoyed staying in a B&B even more. We selected a very old Victorian inn that was quite nice. We were the only guests and spent our free hours in our room watching movies, reading Harry Potter, eating Chinese takeout, and making up games to play.

Here are three short video clips showing how easy it is for Sydney to be happy in a barebones hotel room. The first shows the game she made up minutes upon entering the room.

The second is Sydney’s game of pretending to listen to me reading Harry Potter (that is my Fleur Delacour voice to start) while she secretly takes the opportunity to jump from bed to bed.

Finally, here is our made-up Dance Fighting, which Sydney asked me to first announce to the camera.

Letter to Santa

Sydney, who still believes in Santa, wrote a letter to him after hearing from another parent that kids can write to Santa.

She broke the letter into two parts, “All my questions for you” on the left and her present request on the right. I’ll translate below. I was very pleased with this because a) Asking people questions is a great way to communicate. She takes after my dad in that! b) She only asked for one, very meaningful, non-material present!

All my questions for you:

  • How many elves do you have?
  • Have you ever met Kate Pierce? (From a recent Christmas movie)
  • Can you do gymnastics?
  • Am I on the good list?
  • Am I on the bad list?
  • What did my dad ask for as a kid?
  • What did my mom ask for as a kid?
  • Is you’re favorite color red?
  • Is your favorite season winter?
  • is Christmas your favorite time of year?

Dear Santa,

For Christmas I would like a ticket to Australia. I know it is a lot to ask but I have wished for it my whole life.

P.S. I have been good.


Sydney loves musicals. She and I have watched many, including Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Hello Dolly, The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun, and more.

Now Sydney is into performing musicals. In August she participated in Frozen II and recently she performed the role of Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White) in the musical Descendants, a super popular Disney movie about the kids of all the famous Disney story characters. The play is a fairly basic neighborhood production made more so by pandemic restrictions but the kids all had fun.

Sydney is also obsessed with the move Hamilton. Here are two longer videos (at the request of Sydney’s grandma!) Sydney as Evie has the purple hair and red/black outfit.

Update on Sydney’s Sleeping

I wrote about Sydney’s sleeping habits back in April of 2019, over 1.5 years ago. The great news is that since then Sydney continues to make great progress.

Sydney no longer needs Santa Claus stationed at the corner of her bed with a magic anti-witch spray.

  • Sydney no longer needs Santa Claus to sit on the corner of her bed nor to have a magic spray against witches and spiders
  • We continue to do the five-minute checkin and song but, after that, I rarely have to do a ten-minute check
  • Sydney is now comfortable with me going downstairs after I tuck her in, whereas before I had to stay in my room next door

In short, she is doing great. This might sound trivial but getting Sydney to sleep has been the number one issue I have faced as a parent, both prior to our divorce and since then. I have worked hard on this aspect of child rearing and am proud of Sydney (and myself) for the progress!

Fall Activities During Covid

The COVID pandemic did not have a huge effect on our fall here in New York. Luckily, after having bin hit the worst in the country at the beginning of the virus scare in March and April, New Yorkers buckled down and we have had it mostly under control during the summer and fall. Sydney has been in school full-time since the beginning of the school year.

Having said that, most formal activities were canceled, all play dates were indoors, and we had to wear masks when in groups. Here is an update of our fall.

Sydney continues to enjoy her life, pandemic or not:

  • We have Girl Scouts every other week on Wednesdays, outdoors in a local park in Sea Cliff, and alternate that with gymnastics in the yard of a school friend, Carolina.
  • When the local recreational soccer league did not run, I decided to start a small program for second grade girls. I have had about eight girls each week for the past two months, all from Sea Cliff even though I invited all the girls from Green Vale. It has been great.
  • I have set up individual play dates with Tara and Aislinn, two classmates, and with local Sea Cliff kids Kayla, Grant & Everett, Oriol & Oviti, and Norah & Avery as well as our friends Tantip and her daughter Faye. These five families are the sum of our social contacts this fall outside of school.
  • When Sydney is with her mom, she has ice skating lessons on Sundays, theater lessons on Tuesdays, and her other Girl Scout troop irregularly.

The pandemic has been rougher on me, in that it has drastically curtailed my business and my attempt to create friends in Sea Cliff. I generally have a rich life when Sydney is with me, thanks to all the above, and a bit of a lonely life when she is not. I still practice with my soccer team (games have been canceled), have done a few hikes with various groups of people, have three regular video calls with family and friends, and have dated a bit. But, after two years in New York, I can’t really say I have any good friends here, which is a rarity for me as I have always done very well when moving to a new city.

We did have a slight COVID scare (more of a nuisance) two days ago. Sydney had a sore throat on Friday morning so I kept her out of school. I had to alert her teacher, call the administration to report her absence, and then talk to the nurse who said we did not need a COVID test but just needed a doctor’s permission to return. However, the pediatrician would not see her without a negative COVID test first. I check with three urgent care locations and contacted the New York testing hotline but was told the earliest test appointment available would be the next day, on Saturday. I finally found an appointment for Friday afternoon, where Sydney was tested for the full nasal swab PCR test, which she hated. The results were negative and she’ll be back in school on Monday. All for a sore throat.

A few videos and photos:

Norah, Avery, and dad Dave on left; Sydney, Faye, and Tantip on right

Sydney’s Halloween costume was Uma from the movie The Descendents, which is also the play Sydney’s acting class will perform

Teaching the Girl Scouts a warmup song. Admittedly, our social distancing is poor but this was before the recent surge and everyone at least had masks.

Sydney is obsessed with doing cartwheels. She probably does 50 each day. But she has not been getting her feet vertical until just this moment.