Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shark Tank

As I mentioned in my previous post, Connor has been doing quite a bit of homework now that he is in 3rd grade. Connor was recently moved into the Challenge program at his elementary school, and his first day in that class, he brought home information for a BIG project due later in the month. The project was Shark Tank, based on the hit television show where inventors introduce their products and attempt to obtain funding from investors, also known as the "Sharks."

When Connor brought home this project, my first thought was, "Oh my, what have we gotten ourselves into??" I remember doing a similar project for school when I was in 6th grade, but it wasn't near this amount of work and preparation. Connor and I read through the various requirements and tried to figure out where to begin. The assignment: come up with an invention, build a prototype, research the product/price/market, and then conduct a presentation for the product like the inventors do on the show Shark Tank.

The hardest part, of course, was coming up with his invention. He brainstormed for days, maybe even weeks, and had several good ideas but nothing we felt comfortable with for building the prototype. He then came up with a great idea for a weatherproof jacket for your backpack -- the JackPack! -- but after his research, it turns out that his idea/name actually already existed! (Who knew?!)

As the days wore on, Connor was feeling a little frustrated about not having an invention idea. Finally, I told him that the best thing to do was to focus on something he loved and that an idea would hopefully follow. So that's what he did, and I'm sure it comes as no surprise that he picked FOOTBALL to focus on. Sure enough, his invention idea soon followed.

Connor's invention: The Ultimate Jersey -- 1 and Done!

It's no secret that the Courtright family members are huge fans of the Houston Texans. But what most people may not know is that we make an effort for every game to match the jersey color of our team on game day. The Texans have 3 jersey colors: deep steel blue, liberty white, and battle red, and of course everyone in our family has to have 1 of each color to match the team.

Here's where Connor's idea came from. Recently we were headed to a Texans game and realized that we had packed the wrong color jersey. We had to drive home to get the right color to support our team. And that, as Connor says, was how The Ultimate Jersey was born!

The Ultimate Jersey is a 3-in-1 NFL jersey that has all of the colors for your team in separate fabric panels that you can flip over your head to change the color. For the prototype, Jeff had several old jerseys that he and Connor cut up, stitched together, and added Velcro to attach on the seams for each color. Then, Connor had to do a ton of research, a product survey, and a PowerPoint presentation to build his case for his invention. Then Connor took it a step further and began watching several episodes of the show Shark Tank to get a better idea of how the presentation process worked. I tell you, he REALLY got into this project!

As the project deadline drew near, Connor practiced and rehearsed so many times that he memorized the entire thing. Our whole family got involved by watching and providing constructive feedback. If there was one thing I worried about, it was that Connor wouldn't have a good presentation due to sometimes awkward presentation style, tone, and mannerisms.

Since I know our families were really curious about Connor's project and how it would turn out, I videotaped Connor's final dress rehearsal on the morning of his presentation. It's a little long so let's just say this is for the grandparents, ha!

Jeff and I were able to attend Connor's live presentation for his class and teacher. When I tell you that Connor did amazing, I mean that he couldn't have done any better! I was blown away!! He was clear, confident, made eye contact, and went through his presentation script without any glitches. Afterwards, he was thrown some pretty tough questions by his classmates and Connor answered every single one directly and with great confidence.

I snuck a pic before Connor's live presentation. The kids stood in front of the class and even got to wear a fancy headset microphone. So neat!

Connor and his fellow classmates were awarded with a Challenge Patent!

Feedback from the teacher, love it!

There have been many moments as Connor's Mom that I have felt proud of my son, but it would be hard to name a time when I felt more proud than after Connor's Shark Tank presentation! If I had to guess the number of hours that Connor invested in this project, I would say it's close to 40 or 50 hours over 4 weeks. He worked SO hard! This project really pushed him out of his comfort zone, but I was blown away by his perseverance from beginning to end. It was so awesome to see how his hard work paid off with a highly successful presentation to his teacher and classmates.

Way to go, Connor!!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fall Updates

Time for a roundup of miscellaneous fall photos and updates that haven't made it to the blog yet!

I haven't posted much at all about our current season with the Houston Texans. It's another terrible year to be a Texan fan, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun at the games!

Awesome friends, great tailgating, terrible game!

Every fall Jeff takes a trip with his buddies to an away game for the Houston Texans. This year they drove up to Dallas to watch our team take on the Cowboys. Man, it was an awesome game! Lots of excitement but we ended up losing in overtime. But Jeff had a great time and of course really enjoyed the scenery.

Jeff and friends in front of the AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Inside the Cowboys stadium.

Jeff enjoyed the view!

Jeff was also lucky enough to attend another away game versus the Oakland Raiders when he ended up traveling to California for work. He met his cousin Jon in town and they were even able to stay with Jeff's mom and Dave to catch up. A perfectly timed trip and an awesome visit for them all!

Jeff and Jon with some random Raiders tailgaters.

Back at home, it was Boo to the Raiders!

Lately Kaitlynn has taken to writing very sweet notes to everyone and especially her Sweet Daddy. She wrote one especially for Jeff to keep while he was away in California, so of course it kept a smile on his face at all times! :-)

A note for Sweet Daddy.

And while Jeff was away for the week, one of the most dreaded things for a parent occurred with Connor. No words are necessary because after all, a picture is worth a thousand.

Just keeping it real folks!

Earlier this fall my awesome friend Michelle celebrated a big birthday. Of course, it was the perfect excuse for a girls weekend in San Antonio. We shopped and shopped then ate and shopped some more. So much fun! At one point in the trip, I sent Jeff a text detailing one of our 4-hour shopping excursions in a single store. His reply back: "That sounds incredibly boring." HA!

Girls weekend selfie.

Connor recently participated in his school's 3rd grade musical which was a tribute to Veterans and America. It was a cute performance but let's just say that performing is not really Connor's thing, ha! Connor had a speaking part which was projected onto the big screen, and his voice and posture were uncharacteristically poor despite all of my coaching in advance. Boys!

Connor in the stands, back row directly in the middle, for the 3rd grade performance.

Connor was on the big screen for his speaking part.

The entire group -- that's a lot of 3rd graders!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wrapping up the Rookie Season

It's a wrap! Connor and his Texans played their little hearts out this season and earned 3rd place out of the 8 teams in the rookie division. It was tough for them to lose out to the top teams again this year -- the Mighty Dolphins and Saints -- but they played so great and it was another awesome season of fun, family, and football for everyone.

The entire Texan team and cheer squad.

Not to be left out, Kaitlynn had an awesome season as well and we enjoyed every second of her cheer experience. She learned SO much about being a part of a team, persevering through various obstacles (weather!), and most of all, the joys of performing on the sidelines and field. She did AWESOME!!

Here are the kids' official photos from their season on the 2014 Rookie Division Houston Texans.

Since our Rookie Texans ended up in the semi-finals, our players were able to attend the "Super Bowl" of the season, called the Turf Bowl, at the huge Rhodes Stadium in Katy where everyone was presented with their semi-finalist trophy. The boys' names are called out over the loud speaker and they get to run across the field and be recognized. Such a neat honor for these guys! And even better, the cheerleaders were recognized in the same way! Oh my, Kaitlynn was overjoyed when she got her trophy -- ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe it!! There's just nothing like a trophy to get the kids excited and feeling proud of themselves for such a great season.

I took a video of Kaitlynn receiving her trophy and just had to share. She was just so cute, shaking her pom-poms as she ran across the field to get her trophy, and then lining up with the team for photos. She stood back and stared at her trophy in pure AWE, and then she started twirling around with it! I chuckled when I watched this back, hilarious!

Kaitlynn's cheer squad performed their Hello Cheer before the Turf Bowl game, and then they also performed at halftime with the other semi-finalist cheer squad. They danced a routine to the Prince song "1999", which is why they were wearing 80's accessories like the leg warmers and neon-colored bracelets. The dance was really cute and Kaitlynn did great; unfortunately I can't share the video because apparently the song is copyrighted content and YouTube won't play it, ha! Here's a photo of the girls on the sidelines before the game and a video of their Hello Cheer. Parents weren't allowed on the field or the sidelines, so these girls did it all on their own with just their cheer coach by their side!

Prior to the Turf Bowl, our team participated in the semi-final game versus the Eagles, and I had a chance to take some last game photos and videos of Kaitlynn's cheerleading. These were my favorite of the season, including their precious dance to Iggy Azalea's I'm So Fancy.

We are SO proud of our Rookie Texan and our Rookie Cheerleader for their awesome performance in the 2014 season. The memories we've made are priceless, and we already can't wait for next season! Go Texans!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reading, Writing, and Arithmatic

It has been a while since the new year of school started so I thought it might be time for an update. After all, it is a big year for a certain little girl in our house!

Kaitlynn is well into her Kindergarten year in school and oh what growth we are seeing from her! From the very first day of school, Kaitlynn has been so excited and enthusiastic about school. For the first few weeks, she was quite exhausted when she would arrive home in the afternoon but she seems well adjusted to her new schedule now. She absolutely loves kindergarten and could not be having a better experience so far! Her teacher, Mrs. Wright, seems to have been hand-picked for Kaitlynn because she is the perfect mix of loving but firm.

Ready for school! She loves it!

I've posted before about the reading classes that Kaitlynn has taken to prepare her for learning to read, and while she has done great with sight words, she still didn't seem to catch on to sounding out words despite knowing all her letter sounds. For example, she would see the word "bed" and could sound out the b-e-d letter sounds, but she couldn't quite squish the sounds together to say the word "bed." Sometimes she would even see the word, sound it out correctly, but then say something completely different -- "p-o-t, picture!" Ha! We worked on that skill for months but she really struggled.

But then, within a week of starting kindergarten, I was practicing words with Kaitlynn and couldn't believe what I was hearing. She was reading words by sounding them out -- let, far, walk, pat, bus, and simple words like that. Jeff walked by as we were doing these words and I actually had tears in my eyes. The light bulb had come on, and Kaitlynn and I both were just overjoyed at her progress!!

Mrs. Wright hosted a kindergarten curriculum night back in early October when she explained what the kids would be learning throughout the year. One of the things she discussed was how her students would soon be starting to write words and stories with pictures. I kind of chuckled to myself at the time because I just did NOT expect to see that kind of growth with Kaitlynn anytime soon. Boy, was I wrong!

Not long after that discussion, Kaitlynn just had so many breakthroughs with her reading and writing. She began walking around everywhere sounding out all of the letter sounds in various words -- as in, "Mom, where is the c-a-r, car?" or "I am going to the c-l-o-s-e-t, closet." Then she quickly advanced to writing various sight words and stories any chance she could get to write and draw.

Now, everywhere we turn, there are pictures and stories that Kaitlynn has made all around the house. Her favorite pastime these days is to write in her "journal" and then give us her special letters and stories. Of course, she writes extra special notes to her Sweet Daddy, and he will often find these lovingly placed beneath his pillow on our bed. So sweet!!

Some of Kaitlynn's recent masterpieces.

One of the MANY notes Kaitlynn leaves around the house for her Sweet Daddy.

We had our fall conference with Kaitlynn's teacher last month, and Mrs. Wright had so many positive things to say about her. She called her a "model student" to which I might have stared back in disbelief. Kaitlynn is right on track with her reading and writing and is doing great with everything expected of her in kindergarten. Kaitlynn was even selected as the girl ambassador in her classroom, which means she will attend special training to help new kindergarten students learn their way around school.

All of this feedback was just music to this Momma's ears, considering that we were strongly conflicted about having Kaitlynn start school as a young 5-year-old. My hope was that Kaitlynn would rise to the challenges and thrive in the classroom setting of kindergarten, and she has exceeded any expectation I had going in. We are just SO proud of our girl!

Early morning pic before school, because I just had to capture the cuteness!

Biking to school -- it was dress-up for career day at school. (She apparently wants to be a Disney princess, ha!)

Oh no, her bike chain fell off on the ride home! Sweet Daddy to the rescue!

Lunch with Mom in the cafeteria.

Kaitlynn loves to buy her lunch at school.

Moving on to Connor's updates...he is having another great year at WoodCreek in 3rd grade. At the end of his school year last year, we realized that Connor needed some additional challenges in school to keep him engaged and to help him continue to grow as a student. After several conversations and testing with his teachers and the school administration, Connor was placed in the "challenge" program which aims to provide him with additional opportunities in learning. So far he is really loving the program despite the extra work and projects (more on that in another post).

Crazy hair day at school.

Lunch with my 3rd grader.

I remember being told years ago that the odd-numbered years would be the more challenging years for kids in school -- 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. So this year in 3rd grade, we were prepared for a big jump in the assignments and homework. But the actual level of work he now has doesn't even compare to what we were prepared for! Connor spends 7-8 hours per week on homework, excluding any extra projects that he may have. In recent weeks, he has been spending much more than that. Add to that the demanding schedule of extracurricular activities, and it becomes really difficult to stay on top of all the required work. It is a very hot topic among Moms around here!

In addition to the changes in the level of homework this year, there were considerable changes to the math curriculum in the state of Texas this year. Moms and kids everywhere in our community are reeling from the differences in how they are teaching math concepts, and of course it's being shared all over social media. I'll keep my opinions to myself, but let's just say we're all working our way through it!

An example of Connor's math curriculum. This lesson covered Mental math, but he had points deducted because he didn't show his work. Does anyone else see the irony in this?? LOL!

So far this year I have not been assigned to a project at work, so I've had a lot of time on my hands to spend up at the kids' school with various volunteer opportunities. In addition to my role on the PTA board, I've also been involved with many of the programs, the homeroom parent in Kaitlynn's class, and teaching Junior Achievement for Kaitlynn's class. That has all been keeping me busy, and I was honored to be recognized as one of the school's October volunteers of the month. The kids and I attended a breakfast in our honor and then we were introduced over the morning announcements with the other volunteers that were recognized. Kaitlynn was overjoyed to have her first appearance on the announcements, ha!

At the volunteer breakfast.

The October volunteers of the month with all our kiddos.

Fall is in full swing and we're so thankful for all of the positive benefits that our kids are experiencing in elementary school. Here's hoping we make it through the next couple of busy months, ha!

Connor and Kaitlynn before school by the bike racks. My big kids!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Family Day

Last month we experienced a rare day when the kids had a school holiday and Jeff had the day off from work. We wanted to make sure we enjoyed it, so we surprised the kids with a family day of fun!

The girls before heading out on our family day of fun.

First up, a trip to our local JumpStreet, an indoor trampoline facility. The kids (and Jeff) LOVE this place and I always forget how much it wears them out!

The kids at JumpStreet.

Jeff and Kaitlynn loved jumping together.

After JumpStreet we headed next door to a new pizza place where you get to choose your own custom toppings. The kids really enjoyed watching the pizza bake in front of their eyes. And of course, it was just plain cheese for them!

Their custom pizzas.

After we ate lunch, we surprised the kids again with cookies and a movie. I can't remember which movie it was, so I don't think it was anything spectacular, ha! But the kids love the movie experience so they had a great time.

Family selfie before the movie.
It was such a treat to enjoy a day off together as a family!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What It's All About

So in my last post I talked about Connor's current season of tackle football with the KYF Texans. I had a few more thoughts I've been wanting to share but debated on whether I should. In the end, I realized that writing down my thoughts actually helps me and maybe someone else could relate. So here goes.

Even before Connor could walk and form complete sentences, he was a boy with an incredible love of football, specifically the NFL. Yes, maybe he was brainwashed, but anyone who knows him will admit that it seems to run through his veins!

Connor at 8 months old, intently watching his Houston Texans with his Daddy.

Over time, Connor's love for the game of football has not diminished at all. If anything, he is obsessed with it and has an ever-growing knowledge of the sport, the players, and everything that goes with it. All of his school papers are about football, his personal journals are all now playbooks with X's and O's, and any spare moment he can be found outside throwing the football. He loves to play it, he loves to watch it, and he's always talking about it. Yes, he is a boy obsessed!

Once Connor was old enough, he started playing flag football and then moved on to tackle football last year. We knew his love of the game was genuine because he couldn't wait for his games and even his tough practices, despite the sometimes intense weather conditions (extreme heat, shivering cold rain). Any chance he could get, he wanted to be on the field playing with his team. He feels that way even today. No matter what alternate activity you could throw at him -- other sports, video games, trips to fun places, you name it -- he will always choose football over anything.

Our little Texan, #90

So now I will do an unpopular thing and get very honest about Connor and his football abilities. As much as Connor LOVES football, well, he's just not very good at it. Don't get me wrong; Connor has many strengths and talents, but playing football just isn't one of them. We've watched all of his teammates progress over the years and come back each season bigger, faster, and stronger. Unfortunately, Connor just hasn't progressed at that same rate. The coaches continue to work with him on his skills -- blocking, tackling, running -- but despite Connor's passion for the game, he doesn't seem to possess the speed and aggressiveness that kids his age are now developing.

We have had a lot of conversations about this in our house this fall so it's a topic weighing on me. As Jeff and I watched Connor lose his starting positions and then become relegated to just playing on special teams, it became hard to contain our frustrations. We had many talks with him about getting more aggressive and working hard to earn his spots back. There was even a time recently when I was questioning our ongoing participation in this sport -- after all, it's a huge family commitment to get Connor to 3 practices every week plus the Saturday games when he's only getting the minimum play time (7 plays per half each game) and not showing signs of improvement in his skills.

Connor lining up on special teams for the kickoff.

With each new Saturday this fall, Jeff and I had to fight our feelings of frustration that our kid was the one always on the sidelines. We cheered all of the other boys on, always hoping that Connor would get another chance and that maybe this time it would click and he would show the aggressiveness required for this sport -- this sport that he couldn't possibly love any more than he already does.

Connor on the sideline, waiting for his number to be called.

But after a few weeks of selfishly feeling sorry for myself (on behalf of Connor, or so I assumed), I took a step back from it all and thought about what football really means to us -- Connor individually as well as the family as a whole. I eventually came to the realization that this season of youth football accomplishes so much more than just football.

Multiple times each week, our family and friends come together to support Connor at his football practices and games. He is gaining incredible knowledge of a game that he loves and gets a high level of physical exercise most days of the week due to his busy practice/game schedule. Connor continues to experience the true benefits of team camaraderie week after week on the sidelines as well as at practices. He is learning what it takes to be a good friend and teammate, encouraging and supporting his fellow players after big plays and games. He has formed lasting friendships with kids from our area, and he continues to learn valuable life lessons about leadership, sportsmanship, and teamwork.

Connor with one of his teammates, Mason, enjoying a halftime break.

The list of worthwhile aspects from his participation in football could go on and on. So if Connor isn't bothered by his lack of play time, then why should I be? He loves this sport so much, he couldn't care less what position he plays or how many snaps he takes. Maybe the real lesson here has nothing to do with teaching a kid about his strengths and weaknesses, but more about teaching the parent how to manage her ego when her child isn't the best at something he does.

Connor LOVES football. It's his singular focus and passion in life, at the ripe old age of 8. Regardless of the outcome of Connor's football abilities, I continue to realize that the football experience (or any sport for that matter) is so much bigger than just the actual game of football. The positive benefits we are all gaining from his participation in this sport far outweigh any frustrations we may feel about his role on the team. Our family makes a big commitment week after week to support Connor in his favorite sport, and when I step back and take a look at everything he is gaining -- WE are gaining -- how could I ever question whether it's the right thing?

The surprising life lessons from football: THAT'S what it's all about.