Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reading Brian Selznick

I think we were the last people to see Hugo in the theater and we were really glad we did. It is was fantastic story with even better animation. It also set off an interest in automata and Brian Selznick, the author of the story.

The next adventure of Mr. Selznick's we embarked on was Wonderstruck. It is an illustrated novel, which is a very neat concept. There is an illustrated story and a written story that comprise the book. His use of them together is phenomenal. I won't spoil any of it for you, but there are a list of locations in New York City planned from the reading of this book as lots of it takes place in there. It also peaked their interested regarding sign language and wolves.

Gavin read The Houdini Box and then I read The Boy with a Thousand Faces and Robot King to them. The Robot King alluded to The Secret Garden, now they'd like to hear that too.

I love how one thing leads to another, if you let it. There is never a lack of new books to read, topics to research, , places to visit and things to just talk about. No need for pricey, comlicated curriculum over here. Just a big 'ole stack of library books will do.
We can have 100 books out of the library at a time. Dennis once told me that there was no way we used *all* the books. I sorted them into piles to find that we read 75% of them cover-to-cover, looked through many and didn't touch just a few.
The worth of a book is to be measured by
what you can carry away from it. ~James Bryce

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

18 - Walk Home From School

Since the boys don't go to school, we picked another location - Grandma's house. They also chose, on this occassion, to ride their bikes. This is really in exercise in proving that your children don't have to be under your watchful eye every minute of everyday. Shocking! If you are more interested in raising some free range kids, visit here.

Gavin and Mikey have been venturing further and further from the house for about two years. It started with dropping things off at neighbors houses, walking around the block, and then walking/riding to the park about 1/2 mile from our house. Last year they began walking and riding back and forth from my mom's house that is 1 mile from ours. Even Ethan has taken the journey before.

My boys know the route they should take. They know what to do in an emergency. They understand and feel comfortable encountering other folks along the way. They are safe, and most of all, they are gaining competance and confidence - something I prize highly.

Be free!

Dangerous? If your kids are used to being monitored every moment of the day, and have not developed confidence fuctioning safely away from you, I suppose it could be. Kids who are confident, and have some basic safety rules are perfectly safe spending a little time and space away from you. Really.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Museum of Early Trades and Crafts

Thanks Groupon, we enjoyed our trip to the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts. The museum is housed in an old library, built to look like a church. It was converted to a museum in 1970 with a donation of a personal, family collection of pre-industrial era tools.

When I take the kids to an exhibit like this, there are two principles I usually follow. I do not take them with friends. Although I like the idea of 'field trips', I find the boys see it as a social event - and who could blame them. Gavin and Mikey get *ample* time during the week to just play and chat with friends. I find that when we go somewhere like this in a group, they are most interested in talking.

Another thing I do is a let the boys lead the way, never ask them to move on, and do not spend the whole visit saying, "hey, come look at this". They are free to explore as they like, sometimes returning to the same exhibit 2 or 3 times.

METC has great artifacts, especially if you've read the Little House Series. A couple of times they had 'ah-ha' moments when they recognized something they had only previously heard described.

The museum is very hands-on, leaving items that cannot be touched, under glass. There is also a basement that houses two great exhibits and a playroom that we took advantage of.  We played for a long time at Game of Graces, and we are interested in having a set at home. Gavin said that it definately should not have been a 'girls' game.

We enjoyed our time at this museum and think that you will too.
Get out there and - go!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oppositional Ethan

I love him. You know I do! But one of things that Ethan does that drives me out of my mind is say "No." He says it often, fevervently, persistently in a way that is truly epic. He makes a typical two year old look postively positive. The other half of the problem, is that he even does it for things that he wants. Yes, you heard me right.
I recall reading Stanley Turkecki's, The Difficult Child (hoping for some help) when Ethan was about 4. I looked at the checklist that helps you identify just 'how difficult' your child is (no, it was not encouraging). I remember thinking that the way the book was presenting negativity was just not as intense as what I was dealing with. His scale didn't come close to gauging the amount of opposition exhibited by my then, teeny, tiny son. In a particulary bad incident during that time, he had been caught in a several hour loop of tantruming. As a last ditch attempt to 'break' through the cycle, I called my mother, his beloved companion, to come and offer him a trip to McDonalds. She kept offering, and he kept screaming 'No!' although walking to the threshold of his room, only to stop and scream it again. His propensity for being oppositional is pathalogical.
I knew, even at the time, that is was anxiety and his inability to modulate his sensory experiences mixed with something that we've never quite put our finger on. Poor E. Poor us.
So here's how it goes. We find out about an activity, say tennis, that we need to register Ethan for. If we were to ask him if he would like to play, he most likey would answer - you got it - no. But we don't ask anymore. We register and hope for the best. I might put in on the calendar, or tell him that tennis starts in a few days, but he will just say - no, he's not going. He may continue to tell us that he is not participating in a given activty until it is time to leave. 95% of the time, just in the nick of time he says, "Ok, yes, let's go!!!" and with that, the happy boy packs his stuff and off he goes to tennis. Same with the school dance and bowling.

Very rarely, he protests to the point that the activity has passed, come and gone, and then we deal with tears that he wanted to go all along. I have attempted to persuade him about going somewhere, only to have him decide, around bedtime, that he would like to go.
You might be thinking that you know just the way to fix this. If we would just tell him that he needs to decide and that is his final decision.....blah, blah, blah. Ethan has another really cool super-power - persistence. If only he would use it for good and not evil. He can badger you (which is a really nice way of describing the torture of his nagging) for hours on end. I promise he can outlast The World's Most Patient Parent. By the way, that's not me.
As I am writing this, Dennis stopped home en route to Rita's Italian Ice and offered Ethan ice cream. He said no. Then he said yes.
He can make an easy task difficult and he can turn something that should be fun turn into an act of congress. Would I trade him for all the world? No.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finding Your Tribe

I love to people watch. I also enjoy meeting people who are completely different than me. I think it is where my love of blogs comes from. I like to read/hear about how people live their lives, especially when it is completely foreign to how I live mine. Really, who doesn't like to watch 
The Duggar Family do things? 

But when it comes down to daily things, I get by with a little help from my friends. There are other moms that I just need to be around. We are on the same team. They can challenge my beliefs and motives, but always with the goal of making me better, not putting me down. I need to know that we share experiences and challenges that put us in the same boat, so that I don't feel like I am rowing alone.

It's not in the details, it's in the big picture. Hearing someone say that what I am doing matters and what I struggle with is understandable fills my tanks with the fuel that keeps me going.

Thank you if you are someone who does this for me, you know who you are. Now get out there, and find your tribe.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Math Happens

We don't own a math textbook or any type of math curriculum. But that doesn't mean that we don't do math. Often, math comes up as a course of everyday events. Everyday math is everywhere! Many topics come up without my direction everyday - how do you 'average' something? What is a unit price? What are income taxes? How can I double a recipe? How much allowance do you owe me?
A cool way Gavin had found to explore math concepts is through literature. Books like the Sir Cumference series cover topics like Pi, geometry, angles, place value, perimeter, area, and other math concepts. They are considered 'math adventures' and are a totally different approach than that of a lesson plan.

We also came upon a series called Math Quest. Gavin compared them to the 'choose your own adventure' books, only they correct you if you make the wrong choice. He stumbled upon them at the library and promptly devoured all four of them. It was neat to watch him pull out scrap paper to work the problems, or see him bringing them up to bed. Happy reading, Gav.

The Pythagorean Theorem, Geometry and multiplication can all be all be spiced up by a story line - a little like historical fiction.

Mikey prefers hands-on activities like Cuisenaire Rods. Our set has a series of 'activity' cards that teach mathematical concepts. These do not present at all like 'math'. Numbers are not even involved. Mikey, who struggles with rudimentary math in a workbook, can complete simple algebra when the rods are involved. Sometimes when I ask Mike what he would like to do he says, 'play rods'. Please don't tell him it's 'math'!

We gets lots of good ideas from my friend at Toadhaven homeschool and you can too.

We also love games. Simple games like Yahtzee and Triominoes have reinforced lots of mathematical concepts. Payday, Rummikub, Mastermind, Monopoly, Uno and Battleship, and Blokus require adding, subtracting, counting, recognizing patterns, and logic and reasoning skills.

There are tons of online resources including Gavin's current favorite at Khan Academy.

This website allows you pursue all types of lessons, brain teasers, practices and lectures in a methodical, self-directed way. It uses a 'spiderweb' to link concepts together and the topics progress in an order that builds on previous concepts. The site awards points and rewards for time logged and practices completed.

We've watched documentaries like Between the Folds and The Story of 1. We enjoy learning by watching and even Sean is on the action with Leapfrog and he and Mikey enjoy their time with Reader Rabbit.

This is only a tiny snapshot of what is available to our kids - not just to 'learn math', but to learn to enjoy discovering math for themselves. From books, to video games, online resources, iphone apps, and tv - think outside the box! At least, think outside the textbook.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Flat Fun

My friend, Jennifer, over at Toadhaven got us interested in 'flat' activities. Flat Stanely is an adorable children's book that then lends itself to very fun activities involving 'flats'. You can make a 'flat anything' - yourself or characters from other books - we've even seen flat peaches (think James and the Giant Peach).

A teacher from an Arizona middle school contacted Toadhaven because of her blog posts about flat activities they have done. The Arizona teacher was looking for someone to take the flat crickets her class had made into Times Square, NYC, after reading A Cricket in Times Square. Jennifer knew just who would be interested!

Flat Gavin & Flat Mikey (with Jack & Annie from Magic Treehouse) got to do alot of fun things in Arizona.

The Sonoran Desert

A 'flat' playdate!
We took 4 flat crickets, each representing a class full of 4th graders to Times Square. It started on the train.

We took the crickets to see the sites.

Empire State Building

NY's Finest

Rockefeller Center

M&M Store

Heart of Times Square
NYC Newstand
We enjoyed showing the crickets around. We would enjoy being tour guides to some more flat friends anytime. I will also be getting our flats back to send them off to more exciting destinations. Are you going somewhere cool that our flats can visit with you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Weekend Worth of Fun

We saw the Lorax on Dr. Suess' Birthday at the Dunellen Theater. That was two treats in one! The movie was good and if you haven't had a chance to go to the Dunellen Theater and eat pizza on their coffee tables while you watch, you are really missing out!

Saturday, it was on to the Big Apple Circus. We have been attending this circus for about 10 years. "Grandma the Clown" has been somewhat of an institution in our house. Ethan has at times 'been' Grandma the clown, wanted her (um, him) over for dinner, referred to all of us as "GrandmaClown" and pasted pictures of her (him) up in his room. He uses the words "GrandmaClown" and 'circus' interchangeably. We have received free tickets to this circus, gotten great deals and attended with Scouts at a deep discount, but when Dennis was able to secure some front row seats I was particularly excited. I told Dennis the only thing better than sitting front row, would be getting picked to 'participate' in the show ;)

I only wish I got better pictures when the very funny, very blonde, and very scantily clad entertainer in the show planted her self in Dennis' lap several times during the show! She also serenaded him by violin. It made my day!

It was Sean's first circus...does this say it all, or what?

complete with blue cotton candy on his cheeks

On Sunday, some factors came together that would allow me, Gavin and Mikey to head into NYC. What was so nice about this trip was that although we had tickets to Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, we had no other agenda!

We visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, during mass, and heard a recitation of the Apostle's Creed. It was truly fantastic. I hope the library has a bunch of books about catherdrals! We visited the M&M Store and left with $25 worth of chocolate! We found an Earthcam that we waved to Dennis (and some tourists' from France's family) from.

Ripley's was all that we hoped for complete with taxedermed two-headed animals, illusions, real shrunken heads, the Devices of Torture Gallery, and a huge collection of oddities and facts about strange things.

While we were in Times Square we completed a very 'flat' project
we had been wanting to do for some time. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is where I'd like to tell you about the exciting outing we took, or neat experiments we did, or the cool places we've been lately. But really, we've just been here. So that means I do laundry and make food and pick up pieces of what-not that occupy the boys while we breath each other's air.

We read, they read, I read, puzzles are done, youtube is watched, games are played and we do whatever it is that we are going to do that day. We run errands and go the usual places, but always against the backdrop of a grayish sky and leafless trees. It's March, and I feel like enough's enough. Winter never does me any favors. 

The house is dirtier, my kids are crankier, and I am not the me that I am when the forecast says sunny and 80. Some days are like that, even in Australia.

Every mile is two in winter. ~George Herbert