Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Growing Goodness

A month or so ago I read a piece about making a list of the top five things you want your child to learn.
This doesn't necessarily mean 'math/science/history', though not dis-counting those, but can also entail morals and values that are strong in your family.
It's harder than you think. There are so many things  you want your kids to experience, it's hard to narrow it down to only the top 5, especially when you drop the barrier between 'school subjects' and 'life lessons'.
While I have not narrowed down my list whatsoever, the one solid point, that I actually got from the original piece I read, was that I was my kids to know how to grow and prepare their own food.

At first you think, ok sure, how hard is it to stick a seed in the ground? You trying to turn them into a chef with all this kitchen mumbo-jumbo?

Maybe to some it sounds less important than knowing how to manage finances, or memorize the periodic table.

But someday, and I think we're seeing hints of this already, it's not going to be easy to find good, safe food in our grocery stores, if at all.

I was brought up living next door to my Opa, whose entire life has been agriculture. He tended kilometers of tomato greenhouses when he lived in Holland, and even ended up looking after his brother's gardening jobs when they skipped out to go swimming. When he moved to Canada all he knew how to do was farm and moved across the country earning money at what he did best. For years he worked on the Holland Marsh here in Ontario, and has become one of the provinces foremost experts on carrot and onion crops.
This spilled over into home-life where we would grow over an acre of experimental vegetable varieties each year that had to be kept in top shape in order for the trials to be worth it.
In his 'retirement' we still manage almost as much garden space, but mostly 'personal' experiments now with some new variety of potato or another.
I wasn't in the garden much when I was little. But I still watched. And Toby has a drive to just dig, so we were given our own plot when he was young. I knew a lot from watching, but still learned a lot.
Keep your rows straight so the irrigation hose doesn't have to jog.
Keep your rows even so raking and weeding the paths is easier.
Keep the dirt on the paths loose to prevent weed growth and not trap the vegetables in the ground.
Label everything.
Keep track of the day you plant every year.
When the food is ripe, pick it every day.

This style of farming may sound daunting. And I'd be lying if i said it wasn't.
Sometimes I wish I didn't know what I know so I didn't have to be so picky.
But the truth is, it works. Nothing fails. Everything tastes good.

This is what I want my kids to learn. I want them to know what real food is. I want them to know where food comes from so they understand how much work it must take to fill the shelves of a grocery store. ALL the grocery stores. I want them to be able to feed themselves and their neighbours if there is a food catastrophe some day. I want them to know that cooking is not terrifying. I want math lessons based on kitchen measures and garden hose lengths. I want them to grow good things as they 'grow good' themselves. I want them to know what sharing goodness feels like.

I wanted to have a booth at the farmer's market this year, but in the end decided it wasn't the right thing for us. What we're planning to do instead is be 'open' here saturday and sunday mornings with fresh produce and snacks and my sewing projects waiting at the end of the lane. Ideally we would have started already, but life has a way of getting away on you. In the next few weeks we hope to be back on track, and I hope that those in the area can come say hi :)


Thursday, May 29, 2014

The 'S' Word

Socialization...

Lately, while shopping with Toby on a weekday, I've been getting random people coming up and making a 'pleasant' remark about 'skipping school with mom today'.
I awkwardly laugh, while Toby pretends they don't exist, and say that we homeschool.
Surprisingly, over half the people I say that to think it's awesome and tell Toby how lucky he is (remember, these are random strangers who initially came across as being accusatory), and roll their eyes to me and say something along the lines of 'They make them start school too young anyways'.
The other half kind stand for a moment unsure of what to say and usually end up saying something along the lines of 'ooooh' and then 'Do you think you'll send him next year?' and then 'I guess, as long as he's getting enough socialization...'

I have to bite my tongue in front of Toby because I don't want to turn it into a big deal, or make him feel shamed, or embarrass myself. So I shrug and smile and just say we're having fun with it for now, and then leave quickly.

For one thing, I have no idea if I'll send him next year or not. It's kind of up to him. And asking a 5 year old to make up their mind 6 months in advance is a pointless burden. Yes, I'd like him to go. Yes, I'd like the time to myself. However, I wasn't really getting time to myself last fall anyway. I have to be up early, and at the school on time, and back home at a certain time, and it all flew by too quickly. Now we can stay home if we want, or spend the whole day in town if we want. I can work extra days or work late if someone's around to look after Toby, or because of the nature of my job, I can just take him with me for a few hours.

As far as the dreaded 'S' word...
My biggest fears going into this was socialization and math.
The math fear went away pretty quickly after reading some really re-assuring articles about primary math lessons (after that though, I'm still nervous), but the socialization worry comes and goes depending on how things are going. Some weeks I'm in knots over the fact that we haven't interacted with any kids in, like, forever. Other weeks I think....so?....he's fine.

Having one of the former-type weeks, I happened upon this blog on a website that has constantly been the soothing emotional back rub that I need on this journey.
If you're one of those people like me who aren't intending on clicking over to read the blog, It's on Simplehomeschool.net and it's a great eye roll at the notion that homeschool kids are missing out on being 'social'. Honestly I feel like writing more is redundant because that blog says everything I feel.

Anyway, I got thinking a lot about what socialization actually means, and why western civilization seems to think that the only way to get it is in a room of 30 kids your own age.

so·cial·i·za·tion

  [soh-shuh-luh-zey-shuhn]  Show IPA
noun
1.
a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values,behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

Hmm...Nothing about the necessity to be with 200+ peers while learning this.

I TOTALLY get how it can be good to be in situations like that for kids to get used to instruction and listening and dealing with chaos, etc. I know some kids crave being in a big group. And small parts of me still wishes Toby would just...go...but then I know how anxious he gets when confronted with chaos. I know That he takes his time eating good food, and can't finish his lunch in the 15 minutes they're allotted. I know he takes a LONG time to warm up to things.
Which, at the time, were all reasons I wanted him to be in school - to 'snap out of it'.
Now I see how happy he his daily and how much he's actually learned in the last year.

If socialization is about learning about identity, values, behavior and social skills....I think we're good.

Identity: Toby has started to be particular about what he wears, even down to his underwear matching his pajamas. He changes from 'play clothes' to 'town clothes' if we go somewhere in the middle of the day... a notion that used to make him kick and scream until mommy decided that we really didn't need that chicken for dinner after all, or finally gave in and dragged a dirty, barefoot, pajama-clad toddler to the grocery store.
He knows what he's in to and what he likes to eat. He has a favourite colour. He knows he's 5 and a half. He knows he's a boy and is drawn to very boyish things. He knows who everyone in his family is and who he is in relation to them.

Values: We talk frequently about acceptance and responsibility and the environment. It was Toby's idea to pick up litter on our road on Earth Day. He still comments (and has since he was two) whenever he sees garbage on the ground that he wishes people would just learn to put things in a garbage can. He's very helpful and caring. He knows the value of home-grown food. He's asked if we can plant a bee/butterfly garden to give a place for the bees to go that's not near where we play where they will be happy.

Behavior: I always said I'd never ever bring my kids to a restaurant until they were at least 6. I had witnessed too many meltdowns and embarrassing behaviors while out to dinner through my teens.
However Toby's first taste of 'eating out' began when he was about 9 months old. Yes, he crawled all over me, but then he nursed and settled down. Then I read him a book. Then the waitress brought him his own bowl of (free) cucumber slices to suck on. A few months after that he was introduced to the merriment of french fries. He's grown up knowing how to be patient and behave in a restaurant setting, without me ever having to raise my voice or threaten to never come back.
He frequently grocery shops with me and has always preferred sitting in the buggy to walking beside me because he can see things better from up high. Including him in this task has taught him to behave and be patient while things get done.
Behavior also isn't just about being quiet and patient. It can be about knowing when to run and be silly. He knows grass is for running. He knows slides are for racing and laughing. He knows that being among other kids means waiting his turn and not climbing up the slides or running in front of the swings.

Social Skills: While he still is hesitant to strike up a conversation with strangers (which is maybe a GOOD thing) he talks non-stop at home, using gestures, expressions, and eye-contact.
He has ALWAYS shied away from people in public, but as my mom keeps reminding me, I did too. I still do. But that doesn't make me anti-social and it doesn't mean Toby is doomed. He's only 5.
I admit I've been frustrated with him. Sometimes I want him to just acknowledge a friendly hello, or walk two feet away from me and play instead of insisting I be glued to him indefinitely. I think part of my reason for wanting him to go to school was so he would just not be touching me for a few hours.
The last two weeks, however, have been a pleasant surprise for me. After weeks of moodiness and clinginess and suspected growing pains, he's quietly transformed into this different person.

He gets himself dressed entirely on his own instead of flopping and whining on the couch that he needs me to do it. He goes and plays outside on his own which it a TOTALLY foreign concept in this house, and I love it. He spent the entire day with Anthony while I was at work and they even had a play date, in which Toby was allegedly polite and co-operative to the other kids/adults. Yesterday he walked away to find a table to eat at while I waited for our 'fast food'. He has never EVER walked more than a few feet from me in a restaurant, let alone wandered across a room of strangers without asking me to come. He did the same thing at a small grocery store we were in - he volunteered to put the buggy away, and wove through two lines of people to do so. He wanted to buy something at another shop we were in and used his own money and marched up to the cashier by himself to do so.
Like.... who is this kid? And can he stay around a while?

There's nothing in the definition of 'socialization' that implies you have to be in a giant group of your own age to learn any of these things. Yes, playing with other kids is fun and different than playing with your parents, but should that be a thing that's forced if they don't want to be in that situation?
Kids who end up homeschooling end up interacting with a more diverse age range of 'peers'. They learn early on about household responsibilities and how to carry them out. I think maybe they can end up having more respect for their elders and what they do, than you can ever learn in school.

I'm not at all criticizing those kids in school, or the parents who send them. I know there are certain things that you can't truly understand until you're faced with a situation. Up until last November I was adamantly against myself homeschooling. There was NO WAY it would work out.
There was also NO WAY I would ever co-sleep with my kids, before I had a kid...
There was also NO WAY I would nurse past age 2, before I had a two year old...

Different things work for different people.
This is what works right now.

And I think we're kicking 'socialization' in the butt.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

One Thing Leads to Another


One thing I do like about homeschooling is that we can make a lesson out of anything, and what started out as one thing can turn into another. At Easter, Toby dyed eggs for the first time. Since then he continuously crawls up on the counter and starts poking at the box of food colouring (that STILL hasn't been cleaned up.... sigh...), or coming out to where I'm working with the bottles in his hands asking if we can do more science with them.
So ok fine, I poked through some books and online for colour mixing experiments and came across this paper towel one. The outline on the site just used a few colours, but I figured we'd do a whole colour mixing lesson. Once Toby figured out which were the primary colours, he coloured one of each on each side of our rows.


Next we tented paper towel from the coloured cups into the empty cups. We watched the colour crawl slowly up the paper towels and noted that the paper towel was wet before the colour crept up, which meant that somehow the paper towel is separating out the water from the food colouring, which my inner geek finds FASCINATING.... I'm sure there's a 4th grade science fair project in there somewhere...


 It took about an hour or so, but finally the colours made it up over the hill to mix at the bottom of the empty cups. We talked about how the paper towel was kind of like a straw or a sponge and it sucked everything wet up until there were no more dry spaces.


I asked Toby what else soaked up water like a straw.
"Umm... me drinking with a straw."
"Yes, but what ACTS like a straw, and brings water up from the ground?"
"Mmmmm... plant roots?"
"And what do you think would happen if we gave all our plants coloured water instead of clean water?"
"I dunno, nothing? Would they turn colours? CAN WE DO THAT?"
"Dunno, let's try!"
So off we went to town to find some white flowers, and more food dye.
When we came home several hours later the paper towel colours looked amazing.

So now armed with a completed colour mixing palette, we mixed colours again and put them in rainbow order...


And added our daisies.

After several hours we only had a faint tint at best, which was a little dissapointing. Even after an over-night they didnt look much better.

Then I actually read online instructions for how to do it right, and apparently warm water makes the colour absorb faster, and I had used cold water before. This time I also used half the water and twice the food colouring to guarantee some results. After a few hours we noticed a big difference, and after 24 hours the results were spectacular.
(My inner geek would also like to note that in the case of orange and purple, the plant separated out the mixed colours at first, with the tips of the petals taking the lighter primary, and the centre of the flower taking the dark. The longer we waited the more they mixed though)


Toby the asked if we could do the coloured baking soda and vinegar fizzies again. I don't mind doingit but went online again for other ideas and came across this blog.
Though the science behind it isn't really explained, I would assume that by mixing the baking soda and epsom salts, the baking soda would react, but the epsom salts make it last longer. Also the lemon juice acts as the acid and smells way better than vinegar.

Some small fizzies at first....


Then we got more confident in our fizzing..


Then we thought we should make prints like we've done with coloured dish soap bubbles. The dried result was pretty cool because the baking soda and salt dried with the colours and made little star patterns.


Then we got carried away....



 And Toby wanted to know what it felt like to have baking soda explode in his hands. (this was just from a small dusting he had leftover on his fingers and a ton of lemon juice)

 So we 'accidentally' packed in science, art, play, problem solving and math into the past week.... makes up for being outside 'doing nothing' this week :P


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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter and Earth Day

It seems the monotony of the last month has caught up to us... or maybe it's because the snow's gone... but the last few days have been packed full of activities.
We don't usually do much for Easter. We used to decorate eggs like crazy when I was younger and we've dried them and kept them because some of them are pretty outstanding, but because Toby is allergic to eggs I've never really pushed the egg decorating thing.

This year though, he's old enough to look at it as an art project and not just as something he's left out of eating.

First of all he reminded me that we bought baby animal cookie cutters to make Easter cookies, so we did that. He keeps staring at these photos of ornate cookies and lamenting that we never put icing on ours, so we decided to paint-ice these ones.

A lesson in colour mixing before we begin.



Our masterpieces.















After our eatable eggs were painted, we coloured our real eggs.

Toby's first time dying Easter eggs.

















I wanted to use natural dyes, but didn't plan ahead on this one at all so I scrounged together what I had. I found some frozen blueberries that we used for blue/purple, we used tumeric for yellow, and I tried to used some leftover artichoke water for green, but when you mixed in the vinegar (to act as a fixative on the eggs) it turned a horrible shade of apple juice.... so we used green food dye for green...

Ended up looking pretty good!
(Toby's favourite colour is green, can you tell?)

















I hard boiled the eggs, foreseeing one being dropped, which it did. Toby was mortified, but I said it was ok because we could do something cool with it.

This Martha Stewart Spiderweb Eggs idea is in a book I have, so we tried it.
You're supposed to cook the eggs with the blueberries, so ours wasn't as dark, but still cool!



































Because we used vinegar in the egg dye, Toby eventually piped up "Isn't vinegar supposed to explode or something when you put stuff in it?"
I confirmed that he meant baking soda, so we experimented with the leftover dye and a big bowl of baking soda.

















SCIENCE!

The reason I've included Earth Day in this post is because Toby, knowing that the eggs we did would need to be broken so we could eat them before they went bad, still didn't want to get rid of the shells.
I said they're hard to take off in one piece when they're boiled.
He said he knew that, but maybe we could make an art project out of them instead of throwing them out.

So today he drew a picture of the Earth and we made an egg shell mosaic.















Our Earth Day  activities also included a clean up of the road in front of our house and discussions about littering and looking after the planet.
We thought we'd maybe wander around and get a couple grocery bags of trash, but we ended up with 6 grocery bags, plus three garbage bags we found in a ravine and a bucket full of dried cement. GROSS PEOPLE.



Happy Earth day everyone!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Lego Homeschooling Method

I found my scheduling calendar the other day for all the notes and things I wanted to do with Toby while homeschooling.
The word 'found' maybe indicates how long it's been since I've opened it.
I looked inside and my chest sank as I realized I hadn't made notes since the end of February. We were going to do 'green' projects for St.Patrick's Day and the first day of Spring. We were going to do seed sprouting prior to planting our early peppers so we could see how seeds grow. We were going to talk about trees and maple syrup, but it was too cold at the time for the sap to be flowing.

What the heck had we done for the entire month of March? I felt busy, we must have done... something?

Then I clued in. Toby had been bitten by the Lego bug. All we had done the last month was Lego, lunch, Lego, outside (maybe), Lego, dinner, Lego.

I felt a sinking feeling again as I looked at his word and math sheets that had all but been abandoned over the last several weeks.
We HAD to get back into a routine....right??

I left the office to find Toby, again, at the table with a tray of Lego in front of him.
Our current obsession is a create-and-rebuild Lego truck set, and Mixels.
If you haven't heard of Mixels, it's these little Lego creatures that have three to a 'tribe' and nine to a series. If you have all three form the same 'tribe' you can find instructions online to make a big guy from all of their pieces. If you have all the guys from the series you can do infinite mix variations with all the pieces from them.
For my 8 year old self, this would have been a terrible idea since I treasured every Lego thing I built, and played with it as a toy, never daring to take it apart again.
For Toby though, this is brilliant. He's constantly inventing things in his head and trying to draw them and taking things apart JUST so he can put them back together.

He proudly showed me his new characters and told me all about the things they do to help the other Mixels. It finally hit me as I sat and listened to him for the hundredth time just how GOOD his designs were. Every character was different. Every time.
Maybe... just maybe... he was actually learning something...

Here's what I've finally figured out, just by watching him.
He's learning:

Engineering: the most obvious Lego skill. Everything is trial and error, and every time he makes a mistake, he makes the design better. Supports, locks, braces, everything in the right place to make the design work.

Counting: '2-piece' '4-piece' '6-piece' '4-cube' 'single-square/circle' and  'two-ramp' have all become common parts of our vocabulary when playing. Being able to sight-see those number figures, as well as count how many pieces you need, is something that used to take ages, and now happens almost instantaneously.

Colour: Again, obvious with Lego, but we're learning new colours like burgundy, gold, and the difference between dark grey and light grey.

Balance: Both structurally and artistically. Sometimes the creations are symmetrical, and other times they're not, but he's always figuring out that it can't be too heavy on one side, or that he needs another piece to even it out.

Following direction: 6 months ago he would get through 4-6 steps of Lego instructions, with help, before either skipping ahead or wanting to do something else. Last week he followed online instructions, start to finish, 30 something steps, with no help at all, except to ask for a few pieces he couldn't find.

Focus: Hand-in-hand with the last point, his ability to focus on something for more than 10 minutes has increased SIGNIFICANTLY.

Fine motor skills: What he got frustrated and cried about a few months ago, he now does with determination, accuracy and care.

Hand-eye co-ordination: He used to hand-off Lego pieces to me that "Just don't work" after one try, and now builds with precision and speed.

Physics: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction". ie: when you push a piece down really hard on one side, and the other side isn't braced, everything smashes and/or flies across the room.

Creativity: When he first looked at all the lose pieces and began sticking them together, he gave up pretty quickly without instructions. Now every time he makes something it sparks an idea for something else and his general creative instinct grows stronger. Today he told he in immense detail a scene he wanted me to make out of food for his snack, and what foods I should use. He's never done that before.

~      ~      ~

This is a tow truck with a spare tire and special turbo jets so it can haul heavier loads, and flames shooting out the back so it can melt the ice on the roads on slippery days.

The big guy is the combonation of the three red guys.
The one on the left I started, and Toby figured out the rest.

More guys

The two on the right were started by Anthony.
Toby did the rest.

The three 'Max' combination guys, and little friends Toby made out of the extra pieces.


The three grey guys that Toby followed the instructions for, almost all by himself.

More made-up critters





So, what do you think? Is 'The Lego homeschooling method' a thing?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mom Olympics

With the wrap up of the Olympics for another few years, I thought I'd pitch my idea for some Olympic events, specifically for parents.
How many events would you enter? What are you the best at?

Event 1 - The Floor Routine: Participants are put in an enclosed ring with 100 tiny Lego pieces, 100 Rice Crispies, 20 Marbles, 10 dust bunnies and an eleven-month-old. Clean the floor in the fastest time to win. Points are deducted if the baby eats some cereal. Disqualification occurs if the baby obtains any of the other items.

Event 2 - The Multi Task: Participants must make their way through  a course of randomly placed Duplo bricks, while holding an overflowing laundry basket, talking with phone tucked under one ear, and balancing the smoothie you just made on top of the laundry basket. Points are deducted for each stumble. Disqualification occurs if you drop anything. The stairs in the last leg of the course have brought down many-a professional.

Event 3 - The Stress Test: Participants are placed in an enclosed room with a dog, a two year old who is an hour overdue for a nap, a six-month old, and one broken toy. Whoever lasts longest without losing their mind wins.

Event 4 - The Biathlon: Participants jog on track with jogging stroller. At each check point participant must stop, change baby's diaper, and toss diaper into appropriate receptacle. A missed shot results in a  one minute penalty added to their time.

Event 5 - Backwards Day: Participants bend to the whims of a 5 year old through a backwards obstacle course. Participants must successfully build a Lego set with the instructions upside-down, crawl backwards through a fabric play tunnel, run backwards through a series of hula hoops, and sing any nursery rhyme backwards that the child comes up with. Points deducted for hesitation or inaccuracy.

Event 6 - Silence: Participants are faced with a hallway rigged with laser alarms. Crossing a laser will sound an alarm and wake the baby, resulting in disqualification. Maneuver the hallway as quickly and accurately as you can. Follow up events require you to be holding either a bowl of cereal or glass of wine. Lose points for spilling, disqualified for sounding alarm.

Event 7 - Strategical Lifting: Unload a car load of groceries, diaper bag, sleeping eight-month-old, and bag of new baby clothes in one trip. Points deducted if baby wakes up before you make it to the house. Disqualification if you drop anything.

Event 8 - Wrestling: Change a dirty diaper on a mobile toddler in the fastest time. Points deducted for diaper contents spilled. Disqualification if toddler escapes the arena unchanged.

Event 9 - The Dash: Participants are handed a container filled with contents resembling vomit, set to explode on a timer. Proceed to dash through hurdles course and land container safely in designated area before contents erupt.

Event 10 - Triathlon: Participants engage in a grueling bed-time routine. First leg of the race is bath time where child kicks/splashes/plays/screams while participants try not to get soap in their eyes. When the baby is dried and dressed they proceed to the second leg of the race, which is the bicycle portion. Ride around track with baby in bicycle car seat until baby falls asleep before proceeding to last leg of the race. Once baby is asleep, remove baby from bicycle car seat and speed walk to the finish line without the baby waking up.