Friday, May 26, 2017

Physics and Force at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

We really like volunteering at the Children's Museum. It fits our varied skill sets and energies well, and I've been profoundly changed by the simple environment of respect and empowerment shared with even the youngest of us that exists there. Even the youngest of us is spoken to and with respectfully, as equals. Even the youngest of us is given big responsibilities, and empowered to fulfill them. And on this particular day, the not-quite-youngest of us was enlisted with a very big responsibility, and empowered to fulfill it all on her own.

Look at my big kid, running all by herself a tabletop activity at the world's largest children's museum:


She was completely in charge of this tabletop demonstration of centrifugal force. There are three settings on that Hot Wheels track, by means of which children could experiment with force and acceleration and evaluate how they affected the Hot Wheels car's ability to loop the loop.

When asked later, she claims that her main takeaway is that 55% of children, when presented with a button that you're obviously meant to push, attempted to pull it instead. I, however, sneaked many looks at her as she led everyone from toddlers to teens older than she through the activity, and just between us, I'll tell you that she took away a lot more than that. This kid is confident, and knowledgeable, and funny, gentler with those younger and smaller than she, unabashed when speaking to those older and bigger. She's growing up just the way I'd hoped she would.

Syd and I ran a less exciting table, charged with interesting and engaging children in the concept of the inclined plane, and a comparison of linear motion with rotational motion on that plane. The opening concept is kind of a yawner: you've got two inclined Hot Wheels tracks set up, and a couple of stacked Duplo bricks and a Hot Wheels car to test them on. Kid comes up, you ask Kid if Kid wants to play a game, Kid says yes because duh, you tell Kid you're going to race and Kid can choose to be the block or the car, Kid chooses, you race, you extrapolate on potential energy, linear motion vs. rotational motion, friction, etc.

After a couple of iterations, Syd and I found ways to make this game more fun, though, and more leveled, because leveling tabletop activities is very important when you've got an audience of anyone and everyone. Block vs. Car is pretty great for preschoolers and kindy types, but for younger preschoolers and toddlers, a much better game goes something like, "Can you make the car go down the ramp? Wow! Can you make the block go down the ramp? Ooh, I saw you had to do something different to make the block go down!" and then just let them tool around with cars and blocks and ramps until they're done or their parents drag them away.

For older kids, and especially for school groups, you play out Block vs. Car, getting the rest of the kids to be the judges if there's a ton of them crowded around your table, but then you start to add on challenges. Round #2 allows the kid in charge of Block to do anything she wants, short of injuring competitors or bystanders, to give Block the advantage. Car can't do anything differently. The kid will usually change the angle of Block's track, or push Block to get it to move faster. One kid, who I flat-out told is a genius, also flipped Block over so that only the pegs were touching the track, not the flat side. When Block wins, you ask the kid what she did differently and talk about why that worked. Switch players if you can, and Round #3 can either be a no-holds-barred race in which both Car and Block can try to get their pieces to win, or you can do another round of Block only, but Block has to do something different from what was done last time. If you change the rules slightly for every round, even teenagers will excitedly play round after round after round. It was pretty amusing to be a part of.

I completely forgot to take photos of our table, but here's, like, two seconds of us goofing around when we were between visitors:



I often joke with the kids that wherever we are, I'm the nerdiest one in the room, so they are always extra thrilled when they see that I've found a nerdy soulmate. As we were packing up our activities, we were discussing Hot Wheels with the museum staffer who was in charge of us. I mentioned that when I was my kids' age, my prize possession was a Hot Wheels recreation of the General Lee. He then told me that in his friend's latest Loot Crate, she'd gotten a Hot Wheels recreation of the '67 Impala from Supernatural. I was all, "I LOOOOVE Supernatural!," and he was all, "Oh, really? Do you want to see pics of my Supernatural cosplay?"

I may have asked him to be my best friend. Also, yes, of COURSE I wanted to see pics of his Supernatural cosplay! The kids looked on with benign bemusement as the staffer and I discussed conventions and cosplay and how you can't spray paint foam when making your costume weapons, because the foam will melt, and also people who obsess over avoiding anachronisms in their cosplay are fine, UNTIL they begin to nitpick your cosplay, which isn't meant to be bound to one specific scene from one specific genre, ugh.

It's possibly a little odd how often I find myself looking at some stranger's cosplay pics on their phone, but it's one of my great pleasures.

The kids don't always want to hang out at the museum the way they used to when they were small, but on this day, they seemed determined to embody the idea that since they'd just Worked Hard, it was time for them to Play Hard, and they spent the whole dang rest of the day there, playing like toddlers.

Don't believe me? Here they are in the Ice Cream Shoppe, last visited with this much enthusiasm when they were six and eight:


Here is Syd's Smilosaurus:


And here is Will in the gift shop:



We have a friend who works there, and after I complained to her that "ugh, these kids always have to look at every single thing every single time we come!" she was all, "Well, of course! Ooh, come look at the new stuff we got in!" And there were friends in the Paleo Lab window to chat with, and the kids just had to go to the program on hadrosaurs--





--and if we're down in Dinosphere we might as well see everything else, too--




--and of course we had to go to the racing exhibit, because it IS Indy 500 week and we ARE in Indianapolis--



--but I think everyone had the most fun visiting the newest exhibit, themed around the circus.

This is a baby Rola Bola:


Here's how the professionals do it.

Here's a baby Roman ladder:







--and here's how the professionals do it!

My sore arms attest that the Roman ladder is great for the biceps.

We have lately been obsessed with Philippe Petit, from both The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and Man on Wire. I think I'm going to spring for a beginner's slackline kit, although Syd would prefer to start straightaway with a tightrope, but we were all pretty excited to see this baby tightrope:



And here's how a professional does it!

And if you've ever been to the Children's Museum, you know that you obviously can't get away without riding the carousel:


Our volunteer badges let us ride for free, and on this day the children took full advantage of that. I sat on a bench by the domino table and read several chapters of my book, looking up every now and then to watch my two race to choose their favorite steeds, happily ride away, then exit at the end and race around to the beginning to do the same thing over and over and over again. I'd look up to find them mid-ride, their heads bent together in discussion, or at the beginning of the ride, jostling between each other to see who could get to the stag first. I swear, they were having a better time than most of the toddlers.

I love this about the Children's Museum, or homeschooling, or maybe simply my kids. They're both mature and immature, in control and absolutely silly, working hard and playing hard. They feel capable of giving their best to an often wearying, often tedious job for two full hours, and they feel able to spend the next three goofing off and having fun, occasionally side-by-side with a small child they'd been instructing just that morning. How many other kids their ages do you know who can genuinely be themselves in that way, who can let all of the facets of who they are shine in one setting, with the same people?

Heck, how many adults do you know who can do that?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

She Served as a Senate Page

There are so many amazing opportunities for kids these days. When they were little and I wanted to give them a diversity of experiences, I enrolled them in gymnastics, softball, aerial silks, ballet, horseback riding, Spanish playgroup, day camp at the science museum--anything to expose them to a variety of possibilities so that they could see what they enjoyed.

Now that they're older, the opportunities are just as diverse--they can audition to perform in an actual ballet, or a community theater production, or a real fashion show. I can enroll them in firefighter training for a day, and teen police academy. They can take summer science classes at our local university, and robotics classes at the local community college. They can take online classes from a university in New Zealand. There are writing circles. Chaperoned trips to big cities and even other countries. Whatever a kid is enthusiastic about, we try to make happen. Whatever she's not necessarily enthusiastic about, I encourage her to try out.

A day as a Senate page at the Indiana Statehouse was an opportunity that Will was VERY enthusiastic about. Politics and government have always been interests of hers (the Inside Government Junior badge was the first Girl Scout badge that Will completed independently, whereas I had to flat-out make Syd do it), and it's sometimes a challenge to find her enrichment activities in those areas...

...and I just spent the last half-hour falling down the rabbit hole of researching Model UN, and then I *may* have looked at pics of Princess Kate wrangling the child attendants at her sister's wedding. I'm back, though!

Anyway, yes, what was I saying? Girl Scouts! Girl Scouts have the BEST enrichment for politics and government! There's that Inside Government badge, and then the I Promised a Girl Scout I Would Vote patch that the kids worked so hard on in the fall, and opportunities to connect with global issues while earning the World Thinking Day and Global Awareness badges, and opportunities like this one, to serve as a senate page for a day. Of course, the page program is open to all kids of a certain age, but if you apply through the Girl Scouts, then you serve on a Girl Scout day, which means that all the other pages?

Girls, as far as the eye can see!

Syd and I had plans to have a special day to ourselves in Indianapolis, but first I wanted to tag along on the morning tour of the Indiana Statehouse. It had been a few years since we've toured it, so I wanted to refresh Syd's memory... and mine:




Syd sneaked up there with the big girls.


My favorite part was visiting the House and Senate chambers. Will was still pretending that her mother was not, in fact, present (hey, I was NOT the only mom tagging along! I was also not the only mom being flat-out ignored by her Senate page), but Syd, at least, hung out with me:





Unfortunately, the tour segued into the pages' first activity in the Senate chambers, so poor Syd was trapped without even an audiobook to entertain her while all the pages spent a solid hour brainstorming and creating a bill in committees, then proposing it for amendments and voting:



Although some of the committees proposed silly bills (my own daughter's committee proposed a bill that would allow pets to hold public office as figureheads. When I asked my child WHY they had suggested such a thing, she informed me that there is a cat mayor in Alaska. I googled it. There is. His name is Mayor Stubbs), the winning proposal, that all the pages then happily spent ages debating and proposing amendments to and then voting on, was a bill that menstrual products be sold tax-free.

Imagine THAT being proposed on a page day that wasn't all girls!

The kids had so many interesting things to say about this. One kid objected, on the grounds that if there was no sales tax on menstrual products, the manufacturers would just raise the prices because people were already used to spending that much. Another kid wanted to know how much money that sales tax brought in, and what the state would have to cut with its loss. Another kid wanted to amend the bill to say that menstrual products would be offered for free in public building bathrooms, including public schools and the Statehouse. It was a fabulous debate, with kids bringing up income inequality and fair access and the environmental impact of disposable menstrual products. None of them dismissed the idea outright, because all of them, ages 12 and up, knew, at least in theory, the physical and emotional and economic costs of menstruation, and I bet they all know, by now, as well, those same costs of being female.

Imagine that being debated on a day that wasn't all girls.

While I was watching this play out with stars in my eyes, my entire life's experience as female passing before my eyes and being contrasted to the experience of these kids, my younger daughter was lying prone on a bench next to me, bored out of her skull, hopeless despair in her eyes. At one point, thankfully, a gentleman from the office area outside the Senate chambers came in and engaged her in conversation. He gave her a pin, quizzed her on Indiana's state history (in Indiana, kids study Indiana history in the 5th grade, and this is apparently license for every public official and anyone in education to quiz any 5th grader they encounter about Indiana history. You've been warned), and then gave her a pin that she cherished and bragged about and showed off for the entire day:


She can now tell you what all of those stars stand for, so there you go. Indiana history!

After the debate, I managed to force Will to acknowledge that I was her mother just long enough to take this photo--


--and then the three of us had lunchtime free to eat and explore downtown:


Behind her is the Statehouse!
Afterwards, we dropped Will off for her afternoon Senate session--with the real, live Senators!--and poor Syd finally got the special time that she'd been promised. We painted that downtown red!

We did all of Syd's favorite things:
climbing on the limestone boulders by the canal
chasing leaves
looking at stuff
visiting the Indiana State Museum--museum admission was too expensive for me, but we saw an IMAX, and hallelujah, they had this activity in the lobby, and Syd fortunately thought that it was the best thing ever
trying to entice the ducks and geese that swim in the canal


There we go. Syd got her special time, and we picked up an exhilarated, inspired Will up after a busy afternoon with the Senate. And I drove two exhausted children home through rush hour traffic, put on my jammies, and pretty much read in bed for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Homeschool History: A Cookie and Jello Map of Ancient Greece

The kids made this cookie and Jello map of Ancient Greece as an introductory overview of the geography of Ancient Greece, although it would work just as well--even better, perhaps!--as a culminating project. Looking at photos of the cookie map now, a few weeks after the kids did it, I can immediately see some places--Mycenae! Thera!--that we didn't label but have since studied, and a couple of places--Troy! Sparta!--that the kids have had to look up the location of again, since it didn't stick. But back then we were more concerned with the location of places like Thrace and Macedonia, and the kids DO remember where those places are after this activity, so there you go.

We've made cookie maps of geographical locations many times before, so that part of the process is fairly cut-and-dried for the kids now. They can independently roll out the dough, carefully cut the map out with the tip of a sharp knife, peel up the unwanted dough, and bake it, watching it carefully to remove smaller pieces before they burn.

But unlike other maps that we've made before, Ancient Greece has tons of islands, the placement of which I wanted to secure in the final map. And I wanted something to represent the sea, something that was NOT icing... shudder. I had the idea of blue Jello, but I wasn't sure that it would work. I shopped it around to some of my mom friends at our weekly homeschool playgroup, and they weren't sure that it would work, either, but they gave me the idea to freeze the baked cookie map before adding the Jello, in hopes that the map wouldn't absorb all of that liquid before it could set.

It worked only okay, but that was enough for us!


The blue that you see all over the cookies isn't from the Jello being absorbed by the cookie, although it was, a little--that's from us slopping the liquid Jello all over the darn thing while trying to move it and get it settled in the refrigerator. Next time, I'll probably clear a shelf in the fridge (and good luck to me on THAT!), then have the kids pour the Jello in after it's stable.

We also didn't notice until Syd was trying to pour the Jello in and kept running out, but that giant half-sheet baking pan that I've had since the first time the kids asked for a themed birthday party is not perfectly flat anymore. Is any pan that large EVER perfectly flat? It looks flat, but every time Syd poured, the Jello would settle in the Aegean Sea, leaving next to nothing for the Ionian Sea. You can see it in the photo--the Aegean Sea has all the Jello, while the Ionian Sea has just a hint.

Regardless, even a hint of ocean was enough for our purposes. Time for decorating!







As you can see, we're still benefiting from the map coloring lesson in Math Labs for Kids, as the kids used the greedy algorithm to color in the kingdoms of Ancient Greece. Syd also made labels for most of the important locations--


--and they were added to the map with much fanfare and even more candy decorations:


The finished map is certainly one to be proud of!






We'll be seeing some of these places during our trip to Greece later this summer, when it'll be even sweeter to see them in person than it was to eat them!

P.S. Here are some of the other cookie maps that we've made over the years:

Monday, May 22, 2017

Work Plans for the Week of May 22, 2017: Sparta, Prehistoric Fashion and a Three-Day School Week

Last week was GREAT! It was a fabulous, productive week full of work and play for both the kids and me. Check out Syd, who was supposed to be helping me make egg carton and beeswax fire starters, but discovered midway through that sun-warmed beeswax is even better than modeling beeswax:









Our weekend was just the same--obedience school and an open-house at the kids' sleep-away camp, as well as cookie baking and an astounding amount of time spent with books and movies. I read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers to the children late on Saturday night, and then Matt remembered that Man on Wire is actually on Netflix right now, so instead of sending the kids to their own beds we all camped out on our bed to watch it. THAT was so inspiring that I now have a beginner's slackline kit on my to-buy list!

This week will be either just as great, because we only have three days of school, or stressful and hectic, because we have a LOT of field trips and classes and meetings instead of school. As homeschoolers, I'm not sure if we can handle two whole days during which we have to be up and ready to go by 8 am. We'll see!

Books of the Day this week are science picture books, Native American folktales, a novel that I read last week and thought Will would like, and the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia for Syd. Other daily work includes cursive copywork for Will, time for creative writing for Syd (she's been working for weeks on a story entitled "Shopping Shipwreck"--it's pretty great), typing practice on Typing.com for both, progress on their MENSA reading lists, keyboard through Hoffman Academy, Wordly Wise 7 for Will (she's almost finished!) and a word ladder for Syd, SAT prep through Khan Academy for Will, and Greek language review. Trying to include Matt in our Greek language lessons is turning out to be a huge roadblock to progress, as he's turning out to be quite adept at wiggling out of the lessons, so we may have to drop him. There is no space for weakness in our homeschool!

And here's the rest of our week!



MONDAY: After some extra hands-on lessons last week, Syd understands the concept of dividing fractions now, but still needs more reinforcement to cement the algorithm. She hates and I LOVE these worksheets from Math-Aids; whenever a kid needs more drill in a certain area, I always check Math-Aids first, and they almost always have worksheets that apply. When she's got dividing fractions down, her Math Mammoth curriculum is circling back to geometry, while Will's is circling back to percents this week. Their hands-on math this week, therefore, has to do with neither! In this short week, I just needed something that wouldn't take a lot of time or preparation, and ratios do apply to both fractions and percents. Monday is also mind bender day for Will. Some day, it would be nice to find a firmer logic curriculum, but until then, these puzzles will get your brain moving!

Syd is close to the end of Junior Analytical Grammar. When she's finished the book, both kids will spend some time on Latin and Greek root words before I make Syd start Analytical Grammar, which she is going to LOATHE. Will is still working through the first season's Review and Reinforcement workbook twice a week; when she's finished with that, she'll start the second season of Analytical Grammar--Will likes worksheets, fortunately, because she likes something concrete that she can zip through and be done with.

While Will has class after class and camp after camp and activity after activity this summer, Syd is going to be spending the summer working hard to earn her Girl Scout Bronze award. She and some sister Scouts are meeting later to share their brainstorming work and to debate and decide on their Take Action Project, and because Syd has a plan that she's very fond of, she's going to spend part of her day today working on a presentation of that plan. How about that for a school assignment that directly applies to the real world? Will, on the other hand, is going to work on helping me finish up our troop budget and helping me make an analog record-keeping system that will live inside of a notebook, the better to travel and trade off with, my Dear.

Our Story of the World volume 1 chapter this week is a comparison/contrast between Athens and Sparta. Sparta is further south than we'll be traveling on our Greece trip, but we'll be spending a LOT of time in Athens! On this day, the kids will read/listen to the chapter, verbally answer the quiz questions, then complete the mapwork directly onto the road map of Greece that we'll be taking with us on our trip.

For Syd's birthday, I gave her this book of fashion history. I didn't tell her at the time that it was going to be the spine for a fashion history unit study for the two of us, but she's game, and we're starting this week! On this day, we'll read about the clothing worn during prehistoric times, and then I'll hopefully interest Syd in exploring some more with her small wooden loom. She was really into it for a while before setting it aside, but I bet that when I show her the colorful yarn that I bought her, and what a Pinterest search will reveal, she'll be inspired once again. I just wish that she had two looms, so that I could play alongside her!

TUESDAY: On this evening, we have a Girl Scout meeting/cookout to practice outdoor cooking skills, in preparation for a future troop camping trip. My two are bringing fresh fruit that travels and stores well for camping, and will research each fruit's nutritional information, then create a display or label to share that information with the other girls. At the cookout there will also be burritos, fire-baked potatoes, foil packet green beans, and gourmet variations upon the s'more--I think they're going to eat well!

In the years that we've been homeschooling, I've gotten a lot better about not reinventing the wheel while also avoiding most packaged curricula. This has coincided, of course, with the development of so many more freeschooling options, from MOOCS to open courseware to podcasts to YouTube channels of significant educational value. And that's why instead of creating my own lesson on the democracy of Ancient Athens, I just have to point the children to this excellent TED-Ed lesson.

This Junior Archaeologist badge book is a doozy--38 pages, and several hands-on activities!--so the kids are taking an extra week to work on it. Fortunately, as with all the other Junior Ranger books that they've encountered, they're loving it.

In our weather unit, we're moving on from temperature to air pressure. On this day we have an activity planned to demonstrate how air pressure works; in upcoming lessons, the kids will build a working model of a barometer and use that to measure air pressure for a period of time.

WEDNESDAY: The kids and I will be volunteering at the Children's Museum, running tabletop activities related to cars and physics. This is one of the funnest and easiest of volunteer assignments, and perfect if you enjoy interacting with all kinds of children.

THURSDAY: Sparta is probably my favorite city-state, and I am going to take a LOT of pleasure in helping the children dress up in Spartan armor! They have to research what they need themselves, but of course I know what they'll come up with, and I already have gold duct tape winging its way to me from Amazon, and Matt on the lookout at work for cardboard sheets that MUST be at least three feet in diameter. Return with your shield or on it!

Most of the day, however, will be spent on our local university's campus, where we have an afternoon appointment with a librarian at the special collections library. She has promised to show us some lovely examples of medieval illuminated manuscripts, parchment, bindings, and even scribal errors. I am, as you can imagine, pretty darn excited about our visit.

FRIDAY/SATURDAY/SUNDAY/MONDAY: What a nice, long weekend we'll have! The kids have their all-day nature class on Friday, we'll do some traveling over the weekend, and if I can have as relaxing of a Memorial Day as I had last Saturday, I will be happy and ready and eager for another...

...hmm. Looks like we have another three-day school week next week, too!

What are YOUR plans for the week?

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