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.


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?