Thursday, February 23, 2012

Loads & Loads of Lego Love

It's been going on for days and Ethan started it. Ethan has never been particularly interested in Lego before. I mean, he's played with them of course, but was never particularly drawn to them. This weekend Dennis was unable to get him out of store without a huge, public fit he asked for a set at the mall. When he got in the house he carefully laid it all out and began building. He started at Step 1 and assembled the set like an expert!

I was really surprised at how adept he was at reading the directions. In Lego schematics, you need to be able to discern which pieces are newly placed from one step to the next, identify that piece independant of the final product, and place it in the right place. I haven't seen him give that much attention to detail in a long time. I am shocked and pleased with his building skills!

Then, the rest of the pack hopped on the Lego train. There is always some quiet, small-scale Lego assembly going on in the basement, but this was full-on-build-mode. Since we have a storehouse of Lego sets under the basement stairs Gavin selected the Lego Star Wars: Trade Federation MTT. A complex set with thousands of tiny pieces that must be ordered exactly right to provide all the movement aspects. Mikey chose to build a freestyle a house that had practical aspects and lots of asthetic components. Sean copied Mikey in a smalled scale. Turns out Legos are capable of exposing personality traits!

My kids could tell you that a 2X8 brick had 16 knobs before they knew what multiplication was and how you could substitute two 2X2s for a lost 2X4. Mikey played with Lego Mosiac, learning to move from left to right and top to bottom without knowing this skill would be required for reading. Legos foster both regimented, accurate direction following as well as the endless creative ways that bricks can be used to form nearly anything.
So build with us, break out your Legos or come over here and 'play well'!
(urban legend tells that the danish words leg godt (pronounced le-go) means 'play well'.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

45 - Play With Fire

I believe we have met the criteria for this many times. Our boys have all been interested in varying degrees with fire. I have written about it before here and here.

Allowing kids to light, experiment and play with fire might be an experience that many parents balk at. I think it is an experience that can allow them to develop competance at an early age. Being around fire lets kids literally 'feel the heat', understanding quickly the boundaries that must not be crossed to ensure their own safety. In my experiene, kids that have not be adequately introduced to fire tend to act the most irresponsible when around it.

I think it is important to speak to children about these things in the positive. I don't believe in telling kids they will burn themselves or set their surroundings on fire. We inform them of the proper way to be around and handle fire and what to do if things do not go as planned. Being able to start and maintain a fire can be a life-saving skill.

Dangerous? Only if you are not prepared to give your kids the information and latitude they need to develop responsibility around fire.

47 - Melt Glass

I was not sure we could build a fire hot enough to melt glass. The typical fire burns at about 900 degrees and 1400 degrees is required to melt glass (I found out from the book - I did not know that). Gavin had a pretty good fire going when I suggested that we 'melt glass'. We constructed an 'oven' as the book suggested and scavengered our neighbors recycling bins. Gavin placed a glass bottle in the newly configured fire. We were fortunate it was such a windy day so the fire was easily stoked without us huffing and puffing.

We built up the fire on top of the bottle as the book instructed and waited.

You can see how round the mouth of the bottle is and the shoulders are so well-formed. We were supposed to watch for the glass to 'slump' because it was so hot it would lose its shape.

See the curved mouth of the bottle? The kids were poking it with sticks and it was pretty maleable. Eventually the whole bottle collapsed onto itself and it was a mushy mess!

Dangerous? Absolutely. This was one of the hottest fires we have made in the backyard. I think the specific constrution of it, the vast amount of wood we put on and the wind contributed to that factor. We tried to roast some marshmallows while waiting for the bottle to 'slump', but they kept catching fire.

Have fun melting your own glass!

Monday, February 20, 2012

14 - Put Strange Stuff in the Microwave

We followed the directions in the book for putting some strange items in the mirowave. They were all pretty interesting and we had neat results.

We put a CD on a paper towel and in the microwave for 3 seconds. We did not have any idea what was going to happen and were surprised that 3 seconds did it. The CD was just what you would picture a brand new CD would look like...but this is what came out!

Another thing we put in the microwave was a grape. We cut the grape in half, leaving a small connection of skin between the two pieces. We put it in for 10 seconds. The book did not tip us off as to what would happen.

Two other very fun items to put in the microwave were marshmallows and Ivory Soap. I won't tell you what happened so that you can do them for yourself. They were both worth doing.

Dangerous? I don't think so. This in no way damages the microwave and nothing really scary happened except for the weird plasticky smell from CD, the super-hot marshmallow and the burning grape.

03 - Master the Perfect Somersault

The boys have had lots of opportunities to do somersaults. They taught themselves and have always done them at home. They recently had a chance to hone them at their circus arts class. But, in the spirit being true to the book, we did a few anyway.

Dangerous? Nah! But cute to have a record of these three doing somersaults. (There was no way Ethan was participating, even though I know he can do one.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

30 Day Mommy Challenge - I did not give up!

Welcome back to my log of the 30 Day Mommy Challenge created by Sigrid over at The Joyful Mother.
I continued the Mommy Challenge, although not all the days were contiguous. Day 19 was to tell your child all the reasons you love them and I decided to put it in writing. I took each of my children aside and shared a letter I had written them. I told them that the reason I loved them was because they were my children and that could never be changed. I read them a list of things that I loved about them.

I tell my children every day that I love them, usually when they are coming or going or going to bed. It is automatic, but this was such a delibrate few moments. I feel really good to have said aloud what you 'think' they know, but now I am sure. I hope it is something they remember.

Day 20 was to do one good thing for your health. My commitment to pursue a daily walk wanes and I am reaffirming that now. I think it is such a big one, that is can cover the two days that asked for a contribution to my own health!

Giving thanks to your mother for one positive contribution to my life was Day 21's requirement. My mother has made lots of positive contributions to my life and continues to on a daily basis. Thanks for all you do, mom!

Day 22 had me have a conversation with my inner teenager or child. I don't know if I had much of a conversation, but I did reflect. I made some connections between past behavior and experiences with present day. I recalled being the ages that my kids are now. If you haven't taken time lately to remember what is what like to be 11, or 9 or 3 - try it - it might change your perspective. I found that it was a worthy exercise. (Like all 21 exercises before this!)

I am becoming  an expert at the challenge for Day 23 - letting go of perfection! There was a day when I really believed that if I just did things 'right' I could have things' perfect'. I lost alot of sleep trying to keep up with my own expectations.

The whole idea of 'perfect' seems strange now. What is 'perfect' for you, might not be 'perfect' for me. It's such a swear word at this point. The 'New Perfect' is 'Good Enough' - take it from me. I am shooting for doing the best I can, in the moment that I am in. There is room for improvement, or doing this differently. But there is no more room for the "P" word. I am getting rid of, and have been for some time, the notion that anything can be 'perfect'!

I have been thinking about the criteria for Day 24 for a really long time. Dennis and I have had several converations about this. I'd like to challenge you, along with myself if you have never thought about mindfully and deliberately 'saying yes'! Some of us start out our parenting journey with false beliefs. One is that we need to say 'no' often and firmly. Some of us even learned to say 'no' as a first reaction to most requests (check yourself if you don't think it's true). Sometimes we say 'no' to something because our parents did, or other parents are, or for a reason we have yet to identify. I was surprised when I began actively 'watching' how it happened.

When I first read about 'saying yes' I was blown away that anyone even thought about how much they were saying 'no' and how that paradigm can be changed. I enjoy telling my kids 'yes' and they enjoy hearing it. I will continue working diligently in this area so that my kids can experience all they want to experience.

Doing this challenge has gotten a little bumpy at times. Like when I had a meltdown in the middle of it, or when I forget what I am focused on that day. But, since I am eschewing perfection, I wanted to continue this practice, because it has proven itself so worthy for the first 1/2 of the challenges, I knew I would get just as much out of the second half. The 30 Challenges are listed here: try them!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Change of (Lesson) Plan

I took the boys to the Morris Museum to see The Art of the Brick exhibit. Lego is somewhat of a religion at our house. My boys play often and intensely with Legos and there are tons of concepts my boys have learned simply from playing with them. So it was only natural for us to head out to see this exhibit.

First there was Rocks & Minerals, then Mammals and then Dinosaurs. Then there was Lego. I thought the exhibit was fantastic. The boys said it was fine. Really cool. Neat, now can we go see the automata? What?

We had recently seen the movie Hugo in 3D. It was a very good movie and included as an integral character, an automaton. The exhibit that the museum houses had mechanized characters of all types and automatic musical players. Both boys were completed entranced by the items on display. They looked at them from every angle trying to assess what made them work. They read the plaques and experimented with anything hands-on offered. They both remembered that one of the display items was very similar to a musical machine they had dropped coins in to use at Space Farms. The looked closely at every automaton offered in the collection, guessing what movements it might make.

I was surprised at how much time they gave to punching holes in 'music' cards to put through hand-cranked music boxes time  and time again. They experimented with putting them in one at a time, two at a time, upside down and backwards. They peeked in the machine as they turned the handle.

I admit that I was shocked by the intensity of their interest. I was taken aback that their attention was not lavished on the Lego exhibit. It was a change of plans that I hadn't counted on and a lesson for me. A lesson that things that they discover and investigate for themselves are superior to any agenda I had for them.

“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” ~ Jean Piaget

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rocks for Brains!

A strength of the homeschooling community is information sharing. People tend to post events they know about on message boards, newsgroups and forward stuff via email. People often ask me how I find out about the activities the boys participate in - it is usually something I have come across, or something someone else has and shared. The sense of community is nice with everyone working together and it also means often running into other homeschoolers, which is always nice. There is never a shortage of opportunities for outings, classes, meetups, involvement in co-ops, playdates, game days, and more. Thanks for the info!  

Rutgers, the state college, hosted their 44th Annual Rutger's Geology Museum's Open House. It included a rock and mineral sale, the Geology Museum being open for viewing their exhibits, and lots of classes for adults and kids alike.

There were rows and rows of rocks and minerals exhibited by multiple collectors/sales people. One of the thing the boys latched onto quickly was the conversations that people were having. They learned a lot by eavesdropping! Of course, they each made a small purchase of a new treasure.

One of the classes offered was "Skeleton Detective". It involved taking skull measurements, as well as making subjective decisions about the shapes of structures on the skull. The kids also had a chance to measure a femur and using standarized charts, decide what gender, race and height the skeleton was in life.  It looks like it is setting off an interest in Gavin for further 'forensic' investigations.

Another class was called "Drilling for Oil". The mission was to use the provided grid maps of rock, water and other attributes to produce a new map, based on overlaying the original maps. The final map 'should' give the kids an idea of where to drill for oil.

With the help of the map, and a grid on the 'drill site', the boys succeeded in finding two oil collections and failed at others. When our group was done, they all agreed to take apart the 'drill site' to see how it was set up for them to find oil. They were very intrigued.

The boys opted not to attend a third class in the afternoon. I believe they should be free to make their own choice about taking a class or not. I truly don't believe that 'making them' sit through anything they are not interested in or did not choose yields anything positive. I heard several parents trying to convince their children that a certain class looked 'so cool' and telling them that 'it will be really fun'. Once you are at that point, you've lost them and it is then a waste of everyone's time. You can sit them in a class, but you can't 'make' them learn!

The museum was tiny, but packed full of interesting exhibits, many of which related directly to NJ. We also found out about other events that will be conducted in the future. Why read about things when you can go see them, touch them, and experience them?

Get out - and get your hands on MORE STUFF!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gavin - An Arrow of Light

I am a big fan of The Boy Scouts of America and of my boys being a part of it. All the boys, so far, have begun the ranks as Tiger Scouts (in fact they have all worn the same Tiger Scout hat and Sean will too). The first pack we were involved with was Branchburg Pack 315 because Ethan participated (and earned his Arrow of Light) at Midland School, which is located in Branchburg. Now we are involved in a pack in Greenbrook and enjoying it just as much.

Gavin works really hard on his cub scout requirements. I don't think he can fit anymore belt loops on his belt! He has received very nice recognition for his ambitions. He is finishing up his Cub Scout years and was recently awarded the Arrow of Light.

The cermony focused on the boys having learned the Law of the Pack and meeting all the requirements for advancement. The Arrow of Light symbol was used and 7 candles were lit for each of the tenants of the arrow - Wisdom, Courage, Self-control, Justice, Faith, Hope and Love.

There are 10 purposes of  cub scouting and 12 Core values - Citizenship, Compassion, Cooperation, Courage, Faith, Health and Fitness, Honesty, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Resourcefulness, Respect, Responsibility, all of which we strive to instill in our boys. Our experience has been that if you work at the program with your boys, these values come up time and again.

There are still alot of activities to look forward to this scouting year including the upcoming Klondike Derby, Pinewood Derby, and a Blue & Gold Awards Banquet and Spring Cubelos camping. I look forward to our boys' continued participation in the scouting program, giving us years of challenge and fun ahead of us.

Congratulations, Gavin, for earning and being an Arrow of Light.