Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some Decoupaged Blocks for Christmas

I had so much fun making this decoupaged building block tutorial for Crafting a Green World--

--that I made way more than a single human family actually needs. I keep telling myself that I'm attempting to avoid being a hoarder, so into my pumpkin+bear etsy shop my beautiful building blocks must go!

I separated them into sets of three--one red, one green, and one of vintage sheet music. I thought that this seemed suitably festive!

I LOVE that my kiddos help me with my work. Will set up nearly every single display for this photo shoot:

And no, taking too many photos is NOT considered hoarding... I think?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Children's Museum, and the Children's First Formal Interview

I've mentioned before that we're regular guests of the Paleo Lab in the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, volunteering to clean and prepare some of the less complicated, less scientifically important fossils in their collections so that the paleontologists and more skilled volunteers can have more time to work on the superb pieces.

See, here we are doing that just last month!

Thanks to one of the paleontologists, I finally have a photo of ME here! See, I can work on fossils, too!
 One of the paleontologists suggested, however, that we might enjoy volunteering with the Children's Museum in a more formal capacity, and after researching it, I agreed. I'm always on the lookout for meaningful volunteer opportunities for the children, ones in which they're treated respectfully, given important work, and allowed to take ownership of what they're doing. From what I've seen at the Children's Museum, everywhere from inside the museum galleries to out in South Dakota at a dinosaur dig, that is exactly how those at the Children's Museum treat children.

This also applies, apparently to the application process! Of course the application process for volunteering in a children's museum is rigorous, including references--I haven't had to ask for references since I was 21 years old, I don't think!--and it also includes a formal group interview. On the appointed day, the children and I headed up to the museum, met with two other applicants and the volunteer coordinator, and sat down together for a real, live interview.

I wasn't sure how involved the children would be in this interview, so I brought colored pencils and blank paper for them (actually, I bring those items everywhere, and use them often, both with my own kids and the misbehaving children of total strangers) to keep them occupied while the adults talked.

In truth, however, the children were VERY involved, with interview questions all their own! The interviewer mostly asked them about their favorite things in the museum, what they liked to do in their free time, etc., but still, the children were required not only to talk with the interviewer, but to do so in front of the other applicants.

It. Was. Wonderful!

You know that I'm all about real-world experiences such as this, and I was over the moon at this opportunity for the children to stretch their social skills. And, of course, it was all very casual and friendly, because the interviewer knew how to speak to children to draw them out. Syd was more reluctant, giving short answers and not really wanting to elaborate, but she did draw pictures with the materials that I'd provided, and then show them to everyone to be admired, so it remained a positive experience for her, I think.

Will, however? I was shocked. I know that she's a great big girl of eleven now, but in my heart she's often still that five-year-old child who had never spoken willingly to an adult in her life, who had the same two teachers for three entire years at Montessori and NEVER spoke to them without a damned good reason, who, when asked a direct question by a friendly adult, would simply stare at them, pretending as hard as she could that whatever was happening was sure as hell not happening in her world.

Um, this kid? I'll be damned, but she was charming! She told everyone all about her desire to be a pilot, then lightly bickered with me about the appropriate age to start flying lessons. I raved about the family dino dig, then handed it over to her to tell about the pachycephalosaurus tooth that she'd discovered, and she happily told the tale. As she spoke about digging for dinosaur fossils, one of the other applicants asked her about the type of dinosaur that was there, she explained that it's the edmontosaurus, the applicant asked what that looks like, and so Will got up and turned away from the table, showing the back of the dinosaur dig T-shirt that she happened to be wearing, which INCLUDES A DIAGRAM OF THE EDMONTOSAURUS.

It was so cute that one of the other applicants actually giggled and clapped her hands.

There isn't actually currently an "official" opening for volunteers in the Paleo Prep lab (so keep mum about what we've been doing for the past two years!), but both children were VERY enthusiastic about volunteering in the Dinosphere gallery, and so that's where we've been tentatively placed for our six-week trial run, to begin sometime next month.

Here's to new opportunities!

We actually had to book it back to Bloomington for ballet class afterwards, but obviously not before playing just a *little* bit in the museum:

I swear, this museum never gets old for these kids.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Girl Scout Junior Independence Badge: Bicycle Maintenance and Repair

I know I tell you all the time that I love Girl Scouts, and that it's revolutionized our homeschooling.

I say it so often because it's true.

I loved Girl Scouts when the children were Juliettes and we did all of our badge work independently, but I love it even more now, as part of a troop of enthusiastic kids and their parents who are just as dedicated as I am to providing these engaging and enriching experiences.

As most of us are homeschoolers, our troop also trends toward the non-traditional. The children are expected to do much of their badge work, again, independently, under the mentorship of their parents, but we also meet together at least monthly, co-op-style, to complete a badge activity that works better as a group, or go on a field trip or service project, or just hold a regular meeting at a kid's request.

This particular field trip was inspired by the Girl Scout Junior Independence badge, which Sydney is working on. Their badge work is generally a mix of kid-led and adult-led activities--they choose the badge because they're inspired by one or two of the activities, and those are the ones they're usually eager to complete all on their own. I step in to guide the activities that they're less eager to complete, and as their mentor I also reserve the right to also ask them to complete activities that I think will be valuable experiences for them. With the Independence badge, Syd was very interested in the fashion design components (of course!), the sewing and home organization, and, weirdly, the bad habit-breaking. I, then, am teaching both children how to completely do the laundry from start to finish this week (they can fill the washer, switch over laundry, and put away clean clothes, of course, but know nothing about sorting or water temperature, etc.), I asked Matt to teach them how to hang things on the walls (Matt and I have always had areas of expertise AND complicated walls, and he's the one who holds all the information on complicated wall-hanging. I'm the one who knows how to change the oil in the lawnmower), and I'm tentatively planning an entire Girl Scout meeting around button-sewing (first teaching the children how to sew on a button, then having them switch out the buttons on an item that they've brought from home--I'm sure their parents will be THRILLED).

Syd was also interested in the bicycle repair and maintenance activity for this badge. Now, I know exactly as much about bicycle repair and maintenance as she does, but what I DO know is the name of an acquaintance who volunteers with a local non-profit, the Bloomington Community Bike Project. When I contacted her, she generously put me in touch with the woman in charge, who VERY generously set up our entire Girl Scout troop with a workshop!

These women showed up early on a Saturday morning to teach all the kids how to change the tires on their bicycles and oil their chains. And then?

The kids changed the tires on their bicycles and oiled their chains!

Can you even imagine? Eight little kids in the hands of three experts, who somehow managed to give each child the individual attention that let each kid take her bike tire completely apart and put it completely together again, handling all the resultant catastrophes. One kid punctured his inner tube, one kid's inner tube was adhered to the wheel, one kid had hand brakes to detach, one kid's rim was rusted. Each kid learned how to take the tire off of her bike, how to deflate her tires, how to lever off the tire, how to remove the tube, how to check that tube for punctures, how to put it all back together again, how to reinflate her tire (and how much to reinflate it!), and how to reassemble her bicycle.

Afterwards, the children wheeled their bicycles out to our cross-town walking/biking trail that's next door to the bike shop, and they gleefully rode up and down the trail, careening past people attempting to go to and from the farmer's market, absolutely delighted at what they'd accomplished.

It was a wonderful workshop.

While we were there, we also learned that both kids have managed to grow out of their bicycles this summer.We can pass Will's down to Syd, but for Will, I think we're going to do something different. She's tall enough now for an adult bicycle, and the Community Bike Project has an Earn-a-Bike program. You volunteer three hours with them, and then you are given all the gently-used parts and all the expert guidance that you need to BUILD yourself a bicycle.

Don't you think that sounds like the perfect parent/big kid winter project?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The 2015 Homeschool History Fair: Two World Wars (and Two Tantrums)

The homeschool history fair was an excellent culminating project for our World War 2 unit study. It let me know that each child had the background knowledge to scaffold an independent research project in the field of study, and it allowed the children to stretch their skills in essay composition and visual presentation. It's also fun for the kids, as it lets them focus on something from the study that genuinely interests them--for Syd, the trench warfare from our preparatory study of World War 1, and for Will, the tank battle known as the Battle of Kursk.

Every time there's an academic fair, I seem to rework the requirements that I set for the children. For this history fair, I asked them to prepare a written research paper (that they would then read during their oral presentation), a tri-fold visual display, and a model.

The models both went in interesting directions. Will put together her first plastic model kit, a Panzer tank:

It didn't come out perfectly, of course, and she elected not to paint it to look more realistic, but nevertheless, for her this was an excellent effort. The model's instructions were VERY obtuse, and it had its fair share of fiddly bits.

Syd elected to make a model of a World War 1 trench in LEGOs. I should have supervised her work more carefully, as her finished model didn't seem to reflect a good understanding of what a trench would have looked like--bonus points for including a LEGO rat, but the trench was very wide, for one thing. I did require her to revise her model, and we both ended up reasonably pleased with her second attempt. If I'd been more involved, I would have encouraged her to build a model of the trench warfare system as a whole, with the machine gun posts, the support trenches, the communication trenches--the works! But for a fourth-grader working independently while I met some writing deadlines in the next room, her revised model demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the subject, so I called it good and sent her outside to play.

We'll study World War 1 again one day, after all. We'll make more detailed models then.

Syd's tri-fold display, on the other hand, was excellent. She included a storyboard of photos from our LARP trench warfare, and that turned out to be quite a fan favorite:

She also wrote a comic book of World War 1 jokes. I've got to find wherever that landed after the history fair and get her to dictate captions to me, because the comic strips that she wrote are pretty great--things like a soldier in the trenches getting bombed several times, but then he gets a paper cut and THAT makes him say "Ow!"

World War 1 humor. Never gets old.

Usually, I permit the children to dictate their essays to me (see my "How to Write an Essay" essay here), as I differentiate rhetoric from mechanics, but Will surprised me by actually writing the second half of her essay herself:

It was a tricky essay, too--I had no background knowledge of the Battle of Kursk, and battles are always full of lots of "this unit went here, while that unit went there, then they did this, and then that," so Will would attempt to interpret this information and put it in her essay, and then she'd read it to me and I'd tell her what I didn't understand. And then she'd go back and try to make it clearer. Repeat ad infinitum.

Neither kid looks forward to their oral presentations, which in my book is all the more reason to make them do them. I am firmly of the opinion that repeating a hard situation desensitizes you, and if you're nervous about getting up in front of people and speaking, well, then you'd better get up in front of people and speak until it is no longer any kind of big deal.

Believe me. In high school I would actually sometimes get a facial tick right before I had to get up and speak--and the last thing that a nervous person needs before they get up to speak is a FACIAL TICK!!! I still wasn't super chill with public speaking in college, but you know what I did after college?

Yeah, I was a substitute teacher. Loads of off-the-cuff public speaking there, often to a hostile audience, to boot.

And then I went to grad school, and taught some more. All the freaking time I was teaching. I still sometimes wince at the stupid shit that came out of my mouth sometimes (and still does), but who cares?

No. Big. Deal.

That's what we're going for, with forced participation in academic fairs and spelling bees and plays and performances. They'll thank me one day, I'm sure, and even if they don't, I won't care, because I'll have adorable videos such as this one:

I can see Syd's nervousness broadcast on her face, and hear it in her voice, but she did a wonderful job. She even recited "In Flanders Fields," although I don't think it was clear that she'd memorized it, as she kept glancing down at her paper in terror.

But afterwards, this is her face, after a job very well done:

Will actually did manage to distill the Battle of Kursk down into a more comprehensible summary, although up to this presentation, and then beginning again directly afterwards, she behaved like the rottenest rotten child who ever behaved rottenly. The history fair took place in the public library, you see. Just outside of this conference room and down the hall are all the books. And was Will being permitted to leave that conference room, go down that hall, and glory in those books?

No. No, she was not.

Hence Monster Child of the Rude Behavior. She refused to sit with the tons of other children and listen to the presentations. Instead, she wandered around, sometimes even behind the presentation area so that everyone could see her actively misbehaving. Mind you, in my homeschooling circle there is a wide range of behavior tolerated, because in a good homeschool group we operate on a strict "live and let live" policy, so really nobody was bothered but me and Matt. I'll mildly quell any misbehaving child in my own personal reach, whether they're mine or no, but this particular child of mine deliberately stayed out of my reach.

It actually took me a few tries to call her over when it was her turn to present, and then she spent a goodly bit of time acting as if she just had no idea where her written report could possibly have gotten to (it was on the table next to her), but eventually she got her act together and gave us this:

Could you hear Syd having her own little tantrum during the presentation? She was sitting on Matt's lap, and he had the gall to put an arm on her shoulder to stop her from leaning forward in front of my camera while I was videotaping Will. From the outraged whispers he was met with, you'd think he'd just told her that he was going to smack her with a stick.

Ah, my two sweet tweens!

You'll be pleased to know that all the other children were just adorable. I was the organizer of this particular fair, and it was my pleasure to help the children get set up, then introduce each one for their turn. After each presentation--some confident, some shaky, one in song--I looked each kid in their eyes and told each one that they'd done an excellent job.

And even though I said the exact same thing to each kid (you never want to say something different to each kid, because something that you say might be better than something else that you say, and kids notice that), I'm hoping that they knew that I meant it equally sincerely every single time, because every single kid always looked pleased, and smiled at me, and thanked me, before sitting down and listening to the next kid's excellent presentation.

It was the best history fair that I've ever been to.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our 20 Favorite Kids' Gifts of 2015

A few people have been asking me if I have ideas for good presents for kids.

Why, yes. Yes, I do have ideas for good presents for kids!

At least, I know what my kids' favorite gifts were THIS year. So that's what this list is made of. These aren't things that my kids want, but things that they already play with, that they love, and that I happen to like a whole lot, too:

aerial silks rig
We set our aerial silks rig up almost exactly a year ago (I remember because it was Nutcracker weekend!), and it is easily the most played-with thing in our house, and a heavily-used piece of furniture, as well. It's fabulous for gross motor activity indoors, and visiting friends always enjoy it, as well. Currently, I have our silks rigged as a hammock, and the kids read in it, rest in it, fight in it, do tricks on it, and use it as a swing.

Embellishing the plain dresses are fun, but the major bonus to this kit is the Barbie dressmaker's dummy! You know how much Syd is into fashion design, and with my scrap fabric bin, a hot glue gun, and all the random buttons, ribbons, and other pretties that she can scrounge, she designs an unending number of Barbie dresses. Pro tip: Give the kid sticky-back Velcro to use for her closures.

Still on the Wish List: Can you imagine the wonders we could create with an American Girl doll dressmaker's dummy? Or a MY LITTLE PONY dummy?!?

Do your kids still like coloring books? My kids still LOVE coloring books! It's not something that they do every day at home, mind you, but if we're traveling, I pack some, and I can guarantee that they'll color happily the entire time we're away. I, personally, like the abstract design ones or, for the kids, the educational ones from Dover, but Syd likes anything and Will especially likes dragons and monsters.

Still on the Wish List: Always more coloring books!

This is technically Matt's present, but every month when the mystery box arrives, he, Will, and I all sit around on our bed all evening and read every single comic.

Still on the Wish List: They've now got a ComicBoxer just for kids!

I originally started buying this brand when I first wanted face paint for the kids. I wanted a professional brand that they could do anything that they wanted with, and they've done some pretty incredible things! Every now and then they'll run out of a color in one of their palettes and I'll replace it, or I'll surprise them with a new palette for a gift--it was the pastels last Christmas, because I knew that Syd, in particular would like that one.

Still on the Wish List: More colors!

We bought a 10-gallon fish tank in the spring to house two very pampered bettas (with a barrier in between). They're lovely, the children love them, and I'm currently researching how to DIY a fish tank aquaponics system.

We've had Geomag sets for years and years, but building on the kids' stash is always good for a present. Syd, especially, loves Geomags, so one Christmas she received the pink and purple set, and last Christmas she received her first set of Geomag PRO.

Still on the Wish List: Now they've got a glow-in-the-dark set!

This was the kids' big Christmas present last year--all the Kapla blocks that they could ever want! There's nothing quite like having a bounty of a great building supply to support all of your adventures. In fact, this year I've been gradually repurposing some of their older and less-nice building blocks, since the Kapla blocks are the ones that get constantly played with.

Still on the Wish List: Kapla and KEVA, which are interchangeable, also make little sets to inspire kids to different kinds of creations. I especially like the idea of this Contraptions set, since I don't think I've ever seen the kids try marble runs with these blocks.

A WORKING LEGO train set: how seriously COOL is that?!? The coolest thing is that of course you can use your stash LEGOs, so you can actually make any kind of train that you want. You can also buy extra tracks, so that there's no limit to how much you can expand your set.

Will received this kit for her birthday from her grandmother, and both kids LOVE it. It's got all the supplies and the instructions to build a bunch of little LEGO machines, and you can, of course, use the same pieces to build even more machines using your overall LEGO stash.

Still on the Wish List: I just realized that there's a second kit, LEGO Chain Reactions! Gasp!

We don't own this, but this is what the kids use at Robotics Club, and Will, in particular, has learned to do some absolutely amazing things with it. Also? She now talks like a programmer!

Still on the Wish List: A set of our own!

We don't use these as our everyday scribbling notebooks, because they're too pricey for that (and notebooks are too easy to DIY!), but a nice little notebook makes an excellent stocking stuffer, and is a great encouragement to a kid to start a sketchbook, or a little travel or nature journal.

We've owned Prismacolor colored pencils and markers for many years, and I periodically replace the worn-down and dried-out ones. These are the kids go-to art supplies for EVERYTHING, from coloring books to their own artwork. They're super pricey, so I encourage them to keep them nice (easier said than done, but easier now than when the kids were six), and I have sets of the bog-standard Crayola markers and pencils to take with us when we're out and about.

I've mentioned before that our primary puzzle policy is thrift store-only, but we do have a very few sets of puzzles that we like to work over and over. I've found that simple landscapes or animal portraits don't have a lot of repeat interest to the kids, but there always seems to be something new to talk about when we work the world puzzle that we've had for a few years, or the PTOE puzzle that we got last Christmas.

Still on the Wish List: Umm, this Tree of Life puzzle is kind of the coolest thing ever.

We own the big kit and a small radio kit, and even though the kids play with it regularly, I still don't think they've completed every single project from the large project book. They're versatile enough, though, that you can also create your own projects or just use them for free play.

Still on the Wish List: More Snap Circuits! I know Will would love this arcade one, but I think Syd would like the light one better.

This was in the kids' stockings last Christmas, and it's turned out to be a ridiculously versatile game to play with a wide variety of age ranges. It doesn't require reading or math skills, but instead visual discrimination and reaction time, so kids can easily find themselves in equal competition with the adults.

Tee Fury
I don't know if your kids are into any pop culture stuff, but my kids love to wear these clever fan pieces, many of them mash-ups of a couple of favorite aspects of the pop culture phenomenon. They read like inside jokes, which the kids find especially fun, I think. I often buy from their Grab Bag sales, and end up with surprise shirts from Doctor Who, Pokemon, and Disney films.

This is probably my favorite game to play with Will. The concept is really simple: each card has a thing on the front and a date on the back. You and the other players take turns placing cards on the timeline that you're creating, but until you've committed to your placement, you CAN'T LOOK AT THE DATE. Seriously, do you truly know when the telephone was invented? In relation to the automobile? The refrigerator? The radio? The watch? It's brilliant.

Still on the Wish List: Another cool thing is that you can combine sets. So we've got Inventions and Historical Events, but not Discoveries or Music and Cinema. And there's another version that uses animals, which Will would FREAK out about.

I bought the kids this for school several months ago, and it's come in handy for loads of random things, from Syd photographing crystal formations for the Science Fair, to Will collecting creek water to find the tiny critters in it, to just looking at every single thing that we come across way, way, way up close. The kids' favorite thing to do with it, however, is something that they can't do with our other favorite microscope, the Brock Magiscope: look at themselves! They look at their skin, sure, but also inside their mouths, up their noses, at the hair on their scalp, etc. It can be gross, but it's always fascinating!

We've got that big set, but there are a bunch of other smaller, themed sets, as well. They're a really different kind of building kit, as the pieces are based on the golden ratio, so you can build some incredibly complex constructions with them.

Still on the Wish List: I really want to buy the Molecular Mania set for our upcoming rocks and minerals unit.

You'll notice that there are no books on this list. That's because I'm planning an entire books-only post for later!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Latest over at Crafting a Green World: Toys, Transformations, and Thanksgiving

I've been lax about showing you what I've been doing over at Crafting a Green World lately--I'm there as much as I am here already, and writing about there when I'm over here makes me feel like I'm still there, you know?

Nevertheless, I'm tippety-tapping my pretty fingers to the bone over there three times a week (and several times a day on Facebook), and so here's an update on what I've done most recently!

I monogrammed each toy chest so that the kids can't fight over them. They will anyway!
Cutting LEGO plates with my scroll saw=heaven

The project also included large drawstring bags, monogrammed with freezer paper stencils:

These go inside the LEGO play tables, but can be removed, taking all the LEGOs with them. They keep stray pieces much more safely contained!

I've been working with the kids to reorganize their belongings, in the mad hope that this will help them keep things tidier, and this LEGO storage has, surprisingly, made a world of difference. My ultimate dream is for a system in which storage is coded by color and size, but for now, that's way more fussy than the children want or would keep nice. Really, all that matters for now is that the LEGOS are contained, and that I don't have to step on them every single time I walk across the floor barefoot.

I still want a separate storage system for individual LEGO sets, and one for our LEGO train system, but until then, three cheers for chaos contained!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hawaii with Kids: Surfing on Oahu

We went to Oahu undecided about surfing lessons. I thought that the kids would enjoy it, but didn't want to sacrifice half of a precious day in Hawaii to it. Matt thought we could wait and book them the next time we were in California visiting family. The kids had no opinion.

On Oahu, however, everything changed. Everyone surfs on Oahu, and this had Will, at least, eager to try it (it had the opposite effect on Syd--she saw all the people surfing and decided that this was perhaps not the sport for her at this moment). Numerous surfing schools took place on the beach just a few blocks from our hotel, so we often saw those, in particular, in operation, and could therefore check out their prices and how they operated. And since we were there at that beach so often, anyway, AND Will wanted to take a lesson, well...

Off they go! 

I was happy to stay on the beach with Syd, as I'm not a confident swimmer and it would be pure foolishness to put me out there in the waves with only a surfboard as a flotation device. Matt still laughs about the time in our early twenties when I panicked in ten inches of water during a tubing trip and he had to wade over and rescue me, although I stoutly maintain that I WAS ABOUT TO DROWN.

Instead, I documented their adventure with the help of my handy-dandy telephoto lens. After a lesson on the beach and a paddle out to the waves, the instructor set them up--

--pushed them off-- 

--and off they went! Well, off Matt went, more or less:

This girl, however, turned out to be actually kind of a natural:

Matt's instructor was hilariously frustrated with him the entire time. Matt reports that every time he fell, the instructor would yell at him. I actually heard him a couple of times from the beach!

Will, however, has excellent posture, don't you think?

Oh, look! There's another kid that I'm supposed to be supervising!

Will came away from her lesson very happy, very confident, and with some experience of the very rudiments of surfing. It was perfect:
Oh, and she's also eating sushi for breakfast. On the beach. Because we are in paradise.
 Of course, our brand-new surfers simply must pose with Duke Kahanamoku:

On another day, we drove up the North Shore so that the children could watch some surfers REALLY surf.

Obviously, there was shave ice involved:

The kids were dutifully impressed by the big waves, and the brave souls who rode them:

And Will is still definitely taking more surfing lessons the next time she's in California!


Related Posts with Thumbnails