Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Experiment

Have you ever walked down the sidewalk with a toddler, holding his hand and trying to compel him to walk at a reasonable pace instead of collecting every pebble he sees? And yet the same toddler, if he decides he wants to run away from you, can be equally hard to stop. You may even wonder, “If I didn’t force him to go at my pace, would his pace average out to something reasonable? Might we get home just as quickly if all I do is keep him out of the road instead of trying to control his speed? And he and I would both be happier that way.”

That’s a picture of how I came to the conclusion that we need to try something radically different in our homeschool. Particularly this school year, with E10 and to a lesser extent B7, I have faced incredible resistance to certain activities (Latin, spelling, or strength & endurance exercises are some examples) while they want to race ahead in others (math, for B7, or geology, for E10). I have also felt a bit as though our school schedule is like one of those bucking bronco rides you see at amusement parks, which becomes wilder and wilder until it throws you off. Our days have been packed with schoolwork, but all of it has seemed so valuable that I couldn’t bear to pare it down at all. And yet I have longed for space for my children to pursue their own interests and passions, without having so many other things to do that, by the time they’re through with their schoolwork, all they want to do is stare at a screen. I realized that I have been guilty of teaching a curriculum instead of teaching my children.

So, the change. I wanted to throw off the scheduled box checking to allow for exploration, but not to throw out all structure and just allow the children to play computer games all day. Suddenly, on Tuesday afternoon last week, I remembered seeing something that could work: the record-keeping book from Notgrass (http://www.notgrass.com/recordbook_sample.html). I decided to try using this system during the month of February (which, as the shortest month, is an ideal time to try an experiment). There are 11 categories of learning, and for the time being I simply created an Excel file with space to record activities in 10 of them (the one I left out being “Relating to Others: Character and Relationships” – with 5 children in the house, this happens daily without any additional effort!).  I have ordered the actual record-keeping books, but who knows how long it’ll take for them to appear in the middle of the Pacific? For now, I print out 3 copies of the file each day, for B7, E10, and P12. Each child needs to do something from each category each day, but exactly what and how is their choice. Some activities can play double or triple duty: I have been reading B7 a history of Solar System exploration, which covers science, history, and geography (mapping where people like Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler did their work).

So far, we are all a lot happier, having a great time, and learning a lot. On the Tuesday evening when I announced the change, P12 was so happy she was literally jumping up and down. We went to the library the next day, and bought a dozen or more 50-cent discarded/donated books in addition to checking out another dozen or so to follow the children’s interests. P12 has been studying various Middle Eastern countries, learning Arabic with Rosetta Stone, and is working on writing a report on Turkey. She has also written a praise song which she intends to have her Community Bible Study class sing, made a model of the Solar System out of tissue paper, and done some watercolor painting. She’s currently exploring Khan Academy’s Algebra 1 course to fulfill her math requirement.

E10 has been reading about pirates and working on writing his pirate adventure novel. He’s also taking advantage of some of the Teaching Company’s Great Courses: “The Secrets of Mental Math” to meet his math requirement, and “The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology” because he’s certain he wants to be a geologist. I found him a few mornings ago sitting with his notebook taking notes to help him grasp the structure of Earth’s interior and how plate tectonics functions. This is the child who shirks writing assignments, doing the minimum possible – left to his own devices, he’s voluntarily using writing as a tool to further his other goals. I’m in awe. Oh, and he asked if he could get a course “like the geology one” about chemistry, because he had a hard time understanding the chemistry in the lecture on mineral formation. And the high school chemistry course from the Teaching Company is on sale right now! Once he starts working through that, I expect it to stretch his math skills enough that it can count for both science and math.

B7 loves that I allow him to play on the playground instead of requiring “strength and endurance exercises” like sit-ups and push-ups. His arm strength is barely enough to bend a bow (he just turned 7, old enough to join P12 and E10 in archery), but I perceive a pattern similar to that of his brother’s attitude toward writing: when I specified what exercise he needed to do, B7 would do the minimum possible to allow me to call something a sit-up or push-up and do as few reps as he could get away with, but he is quite happy increasing his arm and abdominal strength through playing on the playground for an hour. He isn’t as much of a bookworm as I’d like, though he’ll happily read Dr. Seuss’s more advanced works (Bartholomew and the Oobleck, for example) to H5 and E2. I’m letting him focus less on language arts so he can pursue his true passion, math. So far, our mathematical adventures have included ellipses (as we came across Kepler’s work in his book about Solar System history) and exponents. On the way back from Community Bible Study yesterday, he asked from the back seat, “What does ‘to the power of’ mean?” After a brief discussion of exponents, he sat silently for a minute or two before asking, “So 2 to the power of 13 is 8192?” When we got home, I asked him if he felt that had been enough math for the day or if he would like to do more with exponents. He enthusiastically voted in favor of more math, and lacking a better idea, I hauled out P12’s Pre-Algebra book and opened it to the chapter on exponents. Yesterday and today, he has worked out problems such as, “How many perfect squares are between 1000 and 2000?” and “Why is (125*8)2 equal to 1252*82?” I kept asking him, after thinking he must be exhausted at doing math designed for people 5 years older than him, if he wanted to quit, but he wouldn’t stop before the entire set of problems was solved.

And the little guys? I had been doing school with H5 “to help him feel included”, but somehow had allowed that to turn into pressuring him into a daily reading lesson, writing activity, math game, violin practice, and several other things. He’s not even old enough for kindergarten yet, so I asked myself why I was pressuring him to do early academics and couldn’t come up with a good reason. So for H5 and E2, school time is play time. If they ask me to read books to them, I try to say yes unless I have a good reason, and I involve them in household tasks. With so much learning going on around them, they’re absorbing huge amounts without my needing to do anything.

I’m really amazed at how much my children are learning on their own initiative, and although I announced this experiment as being only for the duration of February, it might well be the way we do things from now on. I feel like I’ve let go of my toddler’s hand, and with only occasional nudges to keep him out of the road, he is heading straight toward home, giggling with joy.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

P is 12 - A Volcanic Birthday

There's nothing like keeping a secret for weeks, even months, and then revealing it to a person who is completely surprised. P12's birthday in mid-July was SO satisfying.

First, the cake. She wanted a volcano cake, and I had hoped to make it erupt using dry ice, but the only dry ice on Oahu turns out to be a 2-hour drive away (without traffic), which wasn't the best use of her birthday. So I "erupted" it using Jell-O.

I made two round cakes, stacked them on top of each other and cut them into the shape of a (steep) shield volcano. I cut out a caldera in the center. After icing the cake in brown, I made Jell-O using half the water called for. I put the cake in the fridge, and once the Jell-O was cool but not set, I spooned some of it into the caldera. I repeated the process every 5 minutes or so, resulting in a layered look to the "lava". Candles, of course, added to the "eruption" effect.


Next, presents. I know other people got her good gifts - there was a tessellations coloring book and some marvelous art supplies - but I was mainly waiting until she opened the gift from us. It didn't look fancy; it was just a few pieces of paper in an envelope.
 
She wasn't quite sure what it was all about, at first. "It says... Hilo? Someone is going to Hilo? Tomorrow?"
"Look at the names of the passengers," suggested Ari.
 
 
Realization slowly dawned...
 
 
 
"That's right. Just you and Mommy are going to leave Daddy and the boys behind and spend 5 days on the Big Island. You leave tomorrow morning, so let's work on packing!"


She and I had a marvelous time. We stayed with friends of friends, who were amazingly wonderful people and gave us great advice about what to see. And the volcano satisfied abundantly! P12 is a good hiker, so we were able to scramble all over and see all sorts of things that we wouldn't have been able to with the little guys in tow. I'll leave you with a sampling of photos.



On our first day, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The crater with the main eruption is behind us. It's a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night:
 
The next day, we did some serious hiking.
 
 
We started out with the Thurston Lava Tube, then hiked all the way across Kilauea Iki caldera. The hill behind P12 was a fire fountain back in 1959, and the flat surface of the caldera was a lava lake.
 
Since a 4-mile hike in the morning only whetted the appetite of these two hard-core ladies, we decided we were still up for a 10-mile hike in the afternoon/evening, since it involved watching lava flow.
 
After a restful Sunday with our new friends, we drove around to the Hilo side of the island on Monday to see Pu'uhonua O Honaunau, also known as Place of Refuge. It's a place where the ancient Hawaiians were able to flee for safety if they had broken any of the kapu, or taboos. They had to swim or canoe in, likely with someone chasing them intending to kill them, but if they spent the night in the place of refuge, they were safe. I have heard the claim that many traditional cultures have elements that make it particularly easy for them to understand the good news about Jesus, and wondered if this might be such an element in Hawaiian culture: we have broken God's laws, and the natural consequence is spiritual as well as physical death, but if we run to Jesus, we will be saved.
 

In the afternoon, we drove to South Point and took turns being the southernmost person in the United States, and then hiked 3 miles round trip to a green sand beach. The sand isn't pure green, but there is a lot of olivine (a green mineral) in it, which gives it a greenish hue. The olivine erodes from the cliffs behind the beach.

 
On our last day, we spent the morning looking at lava trees (the structures left behind when a lava flow travels through a rainforest), and then went swimming in some gorgeous tide pools with more corals than I've seen anywhere in Oahu.

When we got back, the guys had managed fine without us, and we enjoyed being back with them - a good break helps you appreciate people more! I'm still amused that P12 asked for a volcano cake when she had no clue that the next day, she would get to see an erupting volcano.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

E2 (almost 3 months later...)

It's been a few months... I guess I decided I had higher priorities than updating this blog. I really want to talk about P12's birthday, which was epic, but I realized I didn't post anything about poor little E2. So, here goes.

It's a bit hard to ask a small child what kind of cake he wants, since although he talks really well, he doesn't have enough concepts to communicate general areas of interest, but "butterfly" was one of his first words, and he always points with animation to pictures of butterflies. So this was the cake I made him:
 
I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I used the last of that natural food colour, and threw in a bit of turmeric for good measure. E2 was particularly excited about the banana. When I turned 2, I was also given a butterfly birthday cake with a banana body, and I am quoted as saying, "Have a bit a nana?" So I thought the banana might be a hit, and it was.
 
 

I tend to be apprehensive about more presents for small people, since I know just who will be putting them away, but there were some fun ones, particularly the duck.
 
 

I think that's about all, but of course 2-year-olds can come up with some amusing things to say, and on the evening of P12's birthday he made me laugh too hard to discipline him. He walked up to me, looked me in the eye, said, "Mommy, I'm sorry I bit you," and before I could say that he hadn't, he grabbed my arm and bit me. I guess order of operations doesn't come automatically.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

E10's birthday

I was going to post this back in March, but then I got sick. It isn’t the next boy’s birthday yet, so I’m not behind!

My parents had arrived the day before E10’s birthday, and we asked him which of the items on our must-see list he would like to do on his birthday. He picked swimming with sea turtles – not a bad choice! It was spring break, so the parking area and every other free parking area within half a mile were packed, but we finally found a place that wasn’t too exorbitant and hiked along the resorts and beaches until we got to the “hidden lagoon” (which isn’t as hidden as it apparently used to be when it was named). It did not disappoint: in addition to seeing sea turtles and a variety of pretty reef fish, there was an endangered Hawaiian monk seal napping on the beach, surrounded by caution tape which had been erected by a super informative volunteer. We went to Pizza Hut for a late lunch, and then my parents bought E10 a bike at Walmart while I went home and decorated his cake.

 
After he had figured out how to ride (it didn’t take long), it was time for the piñata. He and P11 had been planning this for months, and in the week before his birthday they made the entire thing by themselves. It was a great success!


Everyone (except little E1) got a turn.


Once the candy had been scooped up and partially consumed, it was time for him to open the rest of his presents. I really liked one with paper models of Escher’s artwork to assemble in 3-D. He was particularly excited by a new fishing reel.


After dinner, it was time for cake. I was really thrilled with his request this year: he had read a biography of the Wright Brothers in school, thought they were amazing, and wanted a Wright Brothers Flyer cake. This is the child who, 3 years ago, could not read two words together without doing a somersault in between them – it’s wonderful to see how he’s matured! My rendition of the Wright Flyer using white icing, pretzels, and chocolate icing for the propellers, was not as aerodynamic as theirs, but it was more delicious!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Natural born citizen?

I don’t generally blog about politics. But I am completely baffled on this one, and don’t really understand why it isn’t an enormous big deal: Why is someone who was born in Canada running for president of the United States?

As many of you know, I will never be president of the USA. I was born in South Africa, to parents who were both South African citizens, and only became a citizen of the USA 3 days before H4 was born. (They let me waddle to special seating where I could think about whether my practice contractions were likely to make the swearing-in ceremony even more memorable.) I certainly don’t fulfill the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen” – clearly, for the first 32 years of my life, I was a natural born citizen of South Africa, and now am no more than a citizen of the USA.

My brother’s “natural born”-ness as a citizen of South Africa is a little more interesting. He is currently a South African citizen, and is officially South African by birth, as opposed to South African by descent. But my mom, talented woman that she is, managed to give birth in Israel to a son who was South African by birth. How did she achieve such a far-reaching accomplishment? At the time of my brother’s birth, my dad was serving in the South African Embassy in Israel. The only reason for our family’s presence in Israel was my dad’s service to the government of South Africa. This fact accounted for my brother’s status. Had we been in Israel on business or vacation when he was born, he would still have been South African, but by descent, not by birth.

Fast forward a generation, and let me take up the case of my utterly adorable niece, baby S. My brother married a US citizen while working on his Ph.D. in Toronto. My sister-in-law moved to Toronto after their marriage, and together they discovered that when it rains, it pours. My brother spent last fall celebrating his shiny new degree, welcoming baby S, and preparing to move to Israel. They applied for S’s U.S. passport right away, since it’s obviously easiest for Mom and Baby to travel on the same country’s passport. But at this point, it isn’t immediately obvious what S’s long-term citizenship will be. Here are 4 possible scenarios:

(1) They remain in Israel indefinitely. I suppose it could happen – they’re really happy there, and though they aren’t planning to stay, my brother’s current university might extend an offer he can’t refuse. Certainly baby S would retain her US citizenship, but as an adult she might be tempted to begin the arduous process of a non-Jewish person obtaining Israeli citizenship. I don’t think this is likely, but it’s not completely impossible. That way she’d end up with dual US and Israeli citizenship.

(2) This one is even less likely. But if a university in South Africa were to offer my brother an amazing position at the same time as a phenomenal design company in South Africa recruited my sister-in-law, they might be convinced to move to South Africa. Baby S would then be entitled to South African citizenship by descent, and could have dual South African and US citizenship.

(3) Here’s a more likely option than either of the previous two: my brother or sister-in-law accepts a job in Canada. In that case, if baby S grows up in Canada, I assume she would be eligible for Canadian citizenship on the basis of her birth. Would that make her a natural born Canadian? I don’t know, since neither parent is a Canadian. But in any case she could hold on to dual US and Canadian citizenship, or even abandon the US citizenship and be purely Canadian (if, say, Trump becomes president…).

(4) Another real possibility is that they move to the USA after the year in Israel, and baby S grows up there. She retains her US citizenship and never needs another. Once she reached adulthood, her citizenship would not be in doubt – she would have no reason to obtain the citizenship of any other nation.

Any of these 4 scenarios could happen – with varying degrees of likelihood based on my brother and sister-in-law’s inclinations and extended families’ locations. At this point, baby S’s ultimate citizenship status is in doubt in a way that none of my children’s is (mine were all born in the USA, two while both parents were citizens, and have lived here all their lives). Baby S is a born citizen of the USA, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to describe her as a natural born citizen when that level of doubt exists.

In case you missed it, the situation with presidential candidate Ted Cruz is very similar to that of baby S in scenario 4. He was born in Canada to a US citizen mother and non-US, non-Canadian father. They were not in Canada on official US government business, but with the oil industry. He returned to the USA as a child, grew up here, and once he reached adulthood his undivided US citizenship was not in doubt. But his situation as a baby mirrored that of baby S today. At that time, he was still in Canada, and could have followed scenario 3. Or what if his family had moved to Cuba – or, say, Venezuela, to follow the oil industry? Then he might have been more like baby S in scenarios 1 or 2. When he was a baby, his future citizenship was not clear-cut. This makes it hard for me to accept that he is a natural born citizen. Citizen, yes, and born citizen, but natural?

Can anyone help me understand why the Republican Party leadership is so certain he can get away with this? The only theory I can come up with is that most Americans have so little respect for Canada that they genuinely forget that it is a foreign country.

(In case you’re going to ask me, yes, I recognize that this post has a “the dwarves are for the dwarves” flavor about it – I’ve used my Facebook to argue that evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump, and here I’m attacking Cruz. But I’m hoping for a brokered convention, and voted for Kasich in that hope. It could happen – maybe Trump’s rage gives him a heart attack and Cruz’s run is declared unconstitutional or at least makes the party nervous about supporting him? Miracles do happen.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Neighbors

As you probably know, I am not a football fan. Last Sunday when I woke up, all I knew about the upcoming Super Bowl was that a team from North Carolina was competing for the first time: my parents live in North Carolina, and they had mentioned the fact. I figured that, for purposes of conversing intelligently with people I might encounter, I ought to at least ask Google the names of both teams, and which one won.

When we got home from church, it was easy to tell who one of the teams was. Every Sunday afternoon for the past several weeks, there have been roars of ecstasy intermittently erupting from the house across the street. A truck flying a “Broncos” flag has been parked in front of our house for ages, accumulating increasing amounts of bird dirt due to its positioning directly under the lamppost, but I had not realized it belonged to the across-the-street neighbors until I saw their décor. If the multiple Broncos flags flying from their dwelling, and the larger flag with which the truck’s original flag had been replaced, hadn’t tipped me off, I might have guessed they were Broncos fans by the football shirts every member of the family was wearing, or the Broncos chairs they were sitting in while they watched the large TV screen set up under their carport. Then again, the sign stating “Parking for Broncos Fans Only” might have served as a clue. I mused on what a study in contrast the two sides of the street provided: we do not even own a television, and my feelings toward ardent football fans range from amusement to bemusement.

We decided to spend Sunday afternoon investigating a portion of the windward side of the island. Shortly before we set off on our adventure, several men ran into the street shouting, and jumped up repeatedly to bump chests against each other. I was able to inform my mom, when I called her on the way to our destination, that the Broncos had scored at least one touchdown. She shares my passionate fascination with many non-football-related subjects: “Oh, dear – if they win, my colleagues will be depressed tomorrow morning.” Ari and I speculated on how our neighbors would respond when faced with either a win or a loss for their team. Ari figured beer would be involved along with either outcome, but fireworks would be included if the team won. I thought no more about it, because the afternoon provided plenty of interest. We started by exploring a coastline overgrown with mangroves, and moved on to a beach quite near to a smaller island to which Ari, P11, and E9 attempted to swim. For one of the first times since moving here, I wished I had brought a sweater to put over my swimsuit. We arrived home to the delicious odor of the dinner I’d placed in the crock pot before I left, and I started to wonder whether I ought to Google the result of the day’s sporting event. As I sat down at the computer and opened my web browser, I saw bright colors and heard and felt an explosion. Google was unnecessary: clearly, the Broncos had won!

I’ve heard complaints from other neighbors about the fireworks (they’ve been going off intermittently since Thanksgiving, to the consternation of the local dogs). And I’ve been irritated a few times at the neighbors in the cul-de-sac whose Friday night parties haven’t quieted down by 4am Saturday (though apparently the police came and chatted with them before Ari and I got around to figuring out how to build a sonic focuser to blast them with the Ride of the Valkyries if they kept making a habit of it). But I have to say, it’s really relaxing to live in a neighborhood where so many other people make occasional loud noises. I enjoy the freedom I have to allow my boys to be noisy, and the knowledge that, however weird we may be, we aren’t bothering the people around us any more than the average family in the neighborhood. We’re unusual in many ways, but I feel like we really fit in here in ways we didn’t anywhere we’ve lived since E9 was a toddler.

What sorts of interactions do you have with your neighbors? Do you feel that the personality of your neighborhood fits you?
 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Robot cake (H is 4)

As promised, I'm posting pictures of H4's robot cake. It was meant to be a pink robot cake, but I was using the all-natural food color I had bought at the health food store and the red color turned the icing brown. Not even reddish brown, mind you. It was supposed to be from beet juice, so I wonder if the package was just really old - it seems like fresh beet juice can't fail to redden whatever it touches. Next time, I'm buying the bad stuff, or using a beetroot. Fortunately, H4 was right there, and I immediately suggested adding cocoa powder to the icing to make it more brown. He likes chocolate (discerning lad), so the disappointment turned to joy fairly quickly. Apart from the failure to achieve the desired color, I'm pleased with the result.


So was he, which is always the goal. (But, as I said to a friend, if it looks like you tried and it contains sugar, it rarely disappoints).


Ari had been away from home since Tuesday morning - he had to observe remotely on Tuesday night and then travel to Mauna Loa to work on another telescope - but he got back around 6pm on H4's birthday. So he was able to be around while H4 opened presents, which means we have a few nice pictures of the festivities.

Ari's parents gave H4 a "crocodile dentist" game - you press down the croc's teeth until the mouth snaps shut on your fingers after a random number of teeth has been pressed.

Given B6's Lego obsession, it's not surprising H4 was pleased to be able to join the ranks of those able to play with "big kid Legos".

We gave him a flashlight which not only shines out the front, but can light up along the length of its body with a blue glow. He was thrilled. I'll have to haul out our "shine-a-light" book sometime...