Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fidgets - Buckyballs

Max can't put these down.  He must have read the tagline on the insert that came with the mini magnet wonder fidget toy - "the toy you can't put down!" 

I did a post awhile back about fidgets.  You can see it HERE, if you like.  There are lots of great suggestions for keeping the fingers busy for all of those kinesthetic learners out there.  My kiddo can truly concentrate much better if he has something in his hands to manipulate while he's working.  Either that or he plays with his hair up near his forehead.  I try to keep stuff handy for him to grab when he has to sit down and focus.

The Bucky Balls (the original) are a big hit with many people and are showing up on desks all across the nation.  It's important to keep in mind that these should not be given to small children, though!!  REALLY important.  Swallowing more than one little magnet ball can be fatal as they can find one another while in the intestinal tract and cause all kinds of unpleasant complications.  There are videos on You Tube to help you learn to manipulate this little gizmo, too.  It's way fun, spatial, and satisfying to have in your hands while pointing your brain in another direction.

And the knock-off version, which is priced more humanely:

I'm surprised by all of the objects Max can build with these already.  They come with a nifty little carrying case, so you can tote them anywhere easily.  Also - the best part - because the balls are magnetic, they don't go flying all over the place, even though you can't help but think that they will just by looking at them!  It takes you a few tries with them to realize that they will indeed all stay in one place.


The Flash on InsideStory

I picked up a pack of these flashcards at a toy store (filled to the brim with stuff) at the 5th Street Market in Eugene, Oregon last week.  Max and I have gone through them a couple of times to learn some new words in a very clever and giggle-some way.

Sorry, I can't get the entire picture to upload here.......the bottom quote says, "five bucks says the cat's a jumper".  The word that you are supposed to become familiar with in context is 'Rapt'.

The bottom of this card says, "okay, how is my breath now?"  The word is 'malodorous'.

You get the idea.  Silly animal photographs illustrating vocabulary words!  The smiling dachshund is probably the best picture, in my opinion.  There are 60 flashcards in a pack and each deck is suited to age 12 and up.  I even brushed up on a few old words. 

The company is called InsideStory and is based in Seattle.  They currently offer three sets of flashcards:  cats and dogs, animals, and Seattle.  Not to knock the company because I think this is a great idea for introducing new words, but their prices are a bit high.  It could be fun to take this into your own (cheap) hands by looking up your own silly animal pictures and working with your child to come up with some corresponding vocabulary words that match the photo.  Or you could make up your own set and add more difficult words as you see fit.

Here is InsideStory's website in case you want to go take a gander.  Try not to gasp at the prices.  I am hoping I can sell mine again for maybe half price when we are finished with them! 

The website scores bonus points because they offer many FREE printable flashcards, too!  I didn't figure that out, though, until after I made the purchase.  Still, a fun deck to thumb through and pull out if you are looking to learn some new words.   

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Homeschooling While Traveling

Apparently I'm not very good at this......this homeschooling while traveling gig.  We are in Oregon, mostly because we've never visited this lusciously green state before.  A 'just because' kind of vacation can be quite satisfying on many levels, except this time, not so much for the progress I intended in our homeschooling lessons.  Somehow Max wiggled out of his daily math (seven days later and I'm still trying to figure out how that exactly happened - must have been my subconscious hard at work, not really wanting to drag Max to the Math) and barely opened the materials I brought along.  Just to be fair, I brought along some FUN stuff!  But life outside the 'inside' wherever we were proved to be too enticing. 

Looking at this with a different, unseasoned eye, though, I see that much learning happened along the way.  We spent five days in Eugene, Oregon in the Willamette Valley.  A peaceful farming community away from the concrete jungles of the big city.  We stayed on a working organic farm and saw an excellent example of where simply incredible food comes from - the ground!  The bushes!  The trees!  Grilled peaches dripping down our chins, crisp apples right outside the front door, plump blueberries a hop, skip and a jump from the breakfast table.  Flowers we'd never seen before, hoop houses to extend the growing season, sunflowers 8 feet tall - a pesticide-free property, which was entirely refreshing.  Organic eggs, cheese, yogurt, local honey and jams.  Max picked up a mean game of badminton while there, too.  I'll file that one in the "hand/eye coordination" category.  He became obsessed with the game and challenged anyone older than him who happened to meander by the court. 

A trip to the coast to see the Pacific!  Climbing up that dune and cresting it was so cool.  Max took up dune rolling as a new sport.  He'll have bits of sand in his ear canals until his next pediatric well check in a year, no doubt.  Worth every grain!  He laughed, danced, and practiced his karate moves in the pounding surf.  He saw men crabbing on the docks in a coastal town, watched numerous boaters go about their fishing business.  He saw large swaths of felled trees and the big logging trucks that screamed down the mountains - not so cool.  Some shell hunting and more dune rolling and the afternoon was completely complete in his memory banks.

He learned to ride a tandem bike.  A visit to the Science Factory in Eugene and their planetarium for the star show taught us a few things.  He learned what slugs are and how much like dog doo they resemble on the sidewalk.  He saw a blue heron take off in flight in some wetlands, set aside just for the heron to do his heron thing in.  He saw massive waterfalls outside Portland.  He learned how much it can rain in one place in the course of a week.  He visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and played with umpteen physics gadgets.  He read a few books while here - some of them comics like Garfield, but others that are part of a history through literature class he is taking and another book that interested him.  He got to see the biggest bookstore in the world and appreciate how much his mom can dawdle in such a place.  It was A M A Z I N G.  And I want to go back for about six days - just to the store.  I could browse all day, sleep there, and get up the next day to keep browsing. 

He learned that in the Pacific Northwest, coffee is liquid sunshine.  He learned that from a local we spoke to.  He learned what a transient or homeless person looks and acts like.  He really studied on them and asked questions about them of us.  We were perplexed in some of our answers.  There were so many teens on the streets - so much so that it seemed a 'trendy' sort of thing and I spend time wondering about it, about their motivations or reasons for choosing such an existence.  Lots of dreadlocks, brightly colored hair and wild clothes toting around large backpacks and cartons of cigarettes.  As long as they stuck together they seemed happy.  Alone, it must be a scary road and I'm not sure I understand it.

He learned about tall city buildings, because we're staying in one now in Portland.  He learned a little about earthquakes from the science museum.  He had some Thai food, ate it and liked it!  He learned how to change a flat tire beside a busy highway in the pouring rain - probably better than the math lesson that was scheduled for that day.  Ugh.  That wasn't fun, but a part of life nonetheless.

All in all, not a bad learning experience.  I just hadn't planned for any of it and instead had some creative writing, reading and math on the docket.  Next week!  We're on our way back to New Mexico tomorrow.  It's been a terrific seven days together as a family.  Maybe homeschooling can happen quite naturally while traveling and I can loosen my grip a little.  That's what's incredible about this whole homeschooling adventure!  As a homeschooling parent you gradually learn what becomes important and what simply isn't.  I am so much more relaxed this year compared to last year, which is good for all parties.

Here's Max reading while on vacation........I think it's a comic book.

I did find some fun learning materials while out and about on this trip and will post them soon!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building a Child Up

If I stop the merry-go-round that is life and sit still for a minute or two or longer, my mind can scarcely believe that Max is a fifth grader. Where does the time go? We all say that, don't we? How did that little guy who once topped out height-wise at my knee turn into a kid who is nearly as tall as I am (and he can even wear my tennis shoes without tripping)???? If we stop and examine each frame of our lives one by one, we don't get a sense of how fast time is moving. If we jump back onto the merry-go-round and hit the 'go' button, time whizzes by. Time plays with our minds and sometimes shakes us silly. My kiddo is eleven and now has his own ideas, his own agenda, his own game plan. Thankfully he still respects me enough to allow me to interject now and then and kindly guide him in the right direction.

I've been thinking about this whole concept of time a lot lately. I've also been thinking about the quote that is written on the left sidebar in this blog that states: "What we feed our children everyday - in body and in spirit - is what they will become." Wow. That's heavy stuff!! But true and important and I think we must pay attention to it. Every word, every gesture, every nuance is read acutely by our children - they look to us to see who they are, who they can become. I find this responsibility daunting, challenging, and one of the most wonderful things all at the same time. There's an opportunity if you ever saw one!

Feed - in two contexts, right? I'm a bit of a stickler about what is put into one's body nutritionally. I hate stuff like Vanilla Coke Zero and think it has zero value. I love stuff like fresh avocados or tomatoes out of the garden, or a really good cantaloupe. I'm trying hard to feed us with nourishing foods and focus a fair amount of energy on that task. Definitely not perfect, but on a track and learning more about it every day. So, working conscientiously on the 'feed in body' part.

What about feeding our children in spirit? What exactly does that mean? What are some things that you do to build your children up? One core way to show a child that you value him or her is to stop whatever you are doing and look at the child when he or she is talking to you. I try hard to do this - to stop what I am doing and look right at him when he is talking. This one is challenging because he talks A LOT, but he usually has something interesting to say. I have issued a 'Mom-Time' no-fly zone after 9 p.m. wherein I can sit and concentrate on tasks that need tending to, like planning out the next school day, catching up on some reading, or blogging! This is the time when the chatter is supposed to wind down and Max is supposed to head off to bed and call it a night. My husband is an early bird, so he's generally in bed before nine. I'm a night owl all the way and am most productive in the wee hours. Pay attention to whether or not you are looking at your child when he or she is speaking - it really does make a difference. It helps, too, to acknowledge that you understood what your child said by saying something that indicates that you did. We humans can sometimes do a miserable job of communicating because we forget about the basics.

Another way to build a child up is to let him participate in some decision-making within the family. We recently sold two vehicles and purchased a new one. Max's dad takes two wheels to work everyday, usually on his bicycle. Since we are homeschooling, we can manage well with one car as long as we communicate (bingo! That word!) about the comings and goings of family members. While researching the new vehicle, I told Max that his input was very important. We listened to his thoughts about each one we test drove. Down to the final two candidates, it was Max who gave the thumbs down on one of them due to the cumbersome set up for the backseat. Even though he grew tired of test driving this and that, I think he felt that if he had an important comment, we were listening, and he has a sense of ownership in the new vehicle.

We are about to embark on a trip to the Pacific Northwest for a week, just to see what's going on up there. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Max has been doing some research using the Connect the Thoughts Mini Vacation Unit to help us determine what activities we are going to engage in while we are away. Here's a picture of the curriculum - it's short and sweet and kind of fun:

This was $2.00 and is available in pdf format. It's an organized way to approach a family trip while letting the child have some say in the matter!

Building a child up isn't necessarily about oooing and ahhhing everytime he does something or draws something or plays a neat beat on the drums, even though that's pretty cool when it happens! I guess my job as a mom is to show him how to survive in the world as he grows up and in so doing, I must try to be real. I must let him make mistakes. I must encourage him without sounding ridiculous, because he'll surely pick up on that. Kids know when you are not being sincere.

Here's the book I'm bringing with on vacation to read:

It's what's on my mind at the moment. What are some of your ideas for building a child up? I'd like to hear them :).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Preference Projects from Currclick - in Case You Have a Preference

Maybe you're like this, too. You hear about something, you become curious about that thing, and then before you know it you surround yourself with all things THING, whatever that thing may be, so you can learn all about it. Substitute any of the following for the THING: gardening, skydiving, kayaking, tandem bike riding, Photoshop, chickens, rabbits, lizards, landscaping, eating well, or pick from thousands and thousands of other topics. Adults who follow their noses according to their interests are generally pretty happy folks, as long as their noses keep them out of trouble, that is :). Why should it be any different for our children? What an awesome thing (no pun intended) to teach a child - that it's wonderful to follow your interests and dig in as you see fit, learn as much as you like!

Last year we followed our noses somewhat while doing unit studies (before setting up a unit study, I sat down with Max and asked him what he wanted to learn about.) Even though the main topic was one of interest, like whales and dolphins, we still incorporated many of the other subjects like math, science, geography, writing, etc. It was an all-out look at a topic, which of course, is the basis of a unit study. I think Max learned well under these criteria and rather enjoyed himself. I liked it a whole lot, too, although it took a fair amount of set-up and planning on my part. Unit studies are kind of like that, aren't they? You can find many of the unit studies we did last year on this blog - just click on the unit studies category over there on the left.

If you sit back and watch your children on the sly, you will notice that they sometimes show a preference for a particular subject. If you can manage to get yourself out of the way, your child will happily figure out ways to surround him or herself with information about that subject. This all starts quite young, doesn't it? The Spiderman phase. Thomas the Tank Engine. Dora the Explorer? Teen Titans. All of these were derived from the TV. Children without access to the TV (living the best life ever!) might show an interest in caterpillars, constellations, birds of prey, endangered animals, or nifty ways to disassemble your microwave. Still, the best life ever. It's that natural curiosity which is such a beautiful and endangered thing - our public school systems somehow seem to squash that natural way of learning for children. Homeschooling has some sneaky advantages, and this is one of them; you can unleash the curiosity monster in your child, calmly step out of the way and let the happy learning happen!

Currclick has some newer offerings called 'Preference Projects' which may or may not fit the bill for you and your child. My interest was piqued by them, so on the blog they must go:

Bugs......can't say favorite would land in the same sentence for me.

Easy. Hummingbird!

There are a few others on horses, constellations, numbers, etc. Note that these are fairly structured. Having flown precariously by the seat of my pants last year for our fourth grade adventure, I'm beginning to understand the grandeur of structure and ordered things, although I still think it's important to inject lots of fun and alternative ways of learning in there - strike a nice balance. You could easily supplement one of these preference projects with other materials and put a fun spin on it. Of course, that would involve YOU getting involved, and maybe that's not the point here. This is kind of about letting a child follow a trail of interest. You'd have to use your very best judgement :).

I like Currclick for the most part. The name stands for 'Curriculum in a Click'. I am a secular homeschooler, so some of their materials don't jive with my worldview, but that's something I can easily work around. Visit their site if you haven't already - all of their materials are available for immediate download in .pdf format (printer cartridges at the ready!) The materials are incredibly well-priced and they run awesome sales, so watch for them. Get on their email newsletter list and you'd be all set.

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