Friday, April 24, 2015

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Well, they're not dark yet, I suppose, with much of the spring foliage still to come, but they are wonderfully deep, and one of my favorite family activities these days is a nice, long hike through them.

When we hike, we take my camera, a bag for trash, a bag for treasure (there are loads of antique soda bottles and blue Mason jars dumped along with the trash here in these woods), and my machete, for the better hacking down of all greenbriers that I find:

One or more cats inevitably follow us. Always this cat:

She always gets tired halfway through and meows unhappily until Syd picks her up and carries her.

What with our own woods, the meadow of the powerline cut beyond--

--and even more woods after that, there's plenty to explore.

One morning, we found a hill down to a creek studded with giant, mossy limestone boulders, many of which had worn through them by rainwater and shallow little baby caves beneath them:

I have yet to find any morels, but the children and I have become interested in spotting and identifying all of our wildflowers:
I think this is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Not flowers, but dried, translucent birch leaves, I think.

The woods beyond the power line cut (when I say this, I'm discretely telling you that we're trespassing in someone else's woods at this point) is crossed by these dirt lanes that lead nowhere in particular, still drifted with last autumn's fallen leaves:

It's not hard to imagine a wild, romantic provenance for them.

Now that the weather is warming (at least, not bitterly cold, not always...) and I've spent I don't know how many hours hacking greenbrier into a semblance of submission in many places, our woods has become a lovely place to pass the time. The kids spend hours there, doing who knows what, coming back filthy and happy and with things in hand--yesterday, Will found a large piece of... quartz, probably, probably from a geode, that inspired us to dig out the rock tumbler (and discover that it doesn't work anymore, and tinker with it, and set it aside to get my father-in-law to tinker with when he visits in a couple of days), and Syd came back with a pinch pot that she'd made from clay that she'd found down by the creek.

And flowers. Always the flowers, except for Jack in the pulpit, which I've forbidden the children to pick.

We're coming close to an entire year spent in this new house, and yet I feel as if we're really only beginning to fully enjoy it--the first summer was filled with unpacking and repairing and buying things like lawnmowers and dishwashers, but this summer will have gardening, and a woods that's actually accessible thanks to me and my machete, and 17 chickens, and a meadow that we can enjoy as soon as I finish fixing the lawnmower, and maybe a playhouse, if my father-in-law is feeling especially motivated next week.

And perhaps a functional rock tumbler, if luck is with us and tinkering successful.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blowing Bubbles with Geometric Figures

The kids found a big jug of bubble solution in their Easter baskets this year, and this set off a surprisingly long run of daily bubble-blowing (ooh, that's an example of the open-ended invitations that I was talking about! I still have the Perler beads out this week, because I keep forgetting to ask if I can clean up one kid's half-finished butterfly. Hopefully, I can remember to do that today, and then set out... moon sand, maybe).

Since bubble blowing was in vogue, I took advantage of that interest by turning it into an afternoon enrichment project, with a twist. First, the kids and I built some geometric figures out of our big set of Zometools, and then we took them outside and made bubbles with them:

We didn't label or study them other than observation and admiration, but it's certainly possible to, as very interesting mathematical things happen in that space inside a three-dimensional figure:
This is one way that bubbles can form inside a cube.
And this is another. See my reflection in the bubble?

Here's a tetrahedron, also one of the Platonic solids.

And here's a rectangular prism. It's not a Platonic solid.
 And of course, along with that, there was also lots of this:
I had a lot of trouble getting sharp photos of bubbles being blown in my college photography class, so I'm pleased that I can do it now! The trick is to accept the fact that my eyesight is crap, even with glasses, and rely on automatic focus.

I'm normally a little picky about my our Zometools, since they were VERY expensive (it's a good thing, then, that they came from Santa! Sigh...), but in accession to the bubble fever, I left these figures out on the back deck with the other bubble blowing supplies. And yes, they've fallen on the ground, they've been dragged all over the yard, they've been neglected and lost and found again later (usually by me, seconds before I would have mown them over), but they've also been explored and played with quite a bit, which is the point, so yay.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Passion for Perler Beads

Well, the kid finally did it.

As I've been telling you, Syd has been longing to make Perler bead My Little Pony figures ever since Comic Con, when we saw Perler bead My Little Pony figures in the exhibit hall (and did not purchase them). We actually had a wee stash of beads and some plates from a few years ago, when I thought the kids might like them (they did not), so all I had to do was order the packs that contain the colors that pattern-makers have been using for their My Little Pony templates (Why u come unsorted, Perler Beads?!?), and we were off!
Syd is making Rainbow Dash's cutie mark.
Even Will likes Perler beads, although she has less patience for fussy patterns, and most likes to fill in a pre-shaped board. I've promised to buy her this dolphin plate at my earliest convenience. 

One of my promises to myself as we shift around how we do school these days is that I will work *with* the children whenever possible--I'd gotten into the habit of shifting off the kids' schoolwork to them to do independently, and while they're certainly capable of that, I of course know that it's far more tiresome to work that way. And so as the kids made Perler bead flowers and fish and ponies and cutie marks, I made cupcakes!

Syd caught my enthusiasm, and made some cupcakes and "ice cream scoops," as well:

Ironing them is the worst part of the process--tedious, fiddly, and nearly impossible to get even with my admittedly pretty crap iron--so now that I've somewhat gotten the hang of it, myself, I plan to show the kids how to iron and let them fuss with it themselves.

I have reserved my cupcakes to make a charm bracelet for Syd, but her cupcakes, lollipops, and wrapped candy pieces (she created the patterns for the latter two herself) will become party favors for her candy-themed birthday party next month:

My favorites of my own Perler bead creations:
I modified this star pattern a little.
The Perler beads have stayed out on the table for the past two weeks, never unused enough to be put away, although I think that the enthusiasm may be waning enough now to give them a bit of a break. It reminds me of when the kids were a little younger, and one of my weekly homeschool plans involved setting out an open-ended project like this as an "invitation" that would stay for a week or so, being picked up and put down and explored and enjoyed during that time. This is something that I certainly think that I should again include in our days. 

With that in mind, my goals for both kids for our school week include math, grammar, spelling, and reading aloud every day; handmade gifts for a birthday party this weekend; a lesson on the causes of World War II at some point during the week; our regular extra-curriculars of volunteering, robotics class, horseback riding class, playgroup, and math class, and extra ballet recital rehearsals for Syd and the Trashion/Refashion Show this Sunday for all of us; and for Syd, with Will invited to participate if she'd like, a daily hands-on project, including a "DIY ocean" based on our aquatics class last week, more seed starting with me, experimenting with dyeing play silks, and upcycling spaghetti jars into vases in preparation for a Girl Scout troop meeting on flower arranging next week.

AND an open-ended invitation set out somewhere accessible. Snap circuits, perhaps? Clay? 

Ooh, maybe sketching supplies and a still life!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

We were on the road early on this morning, due at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis for a homeschool class on aquatic ecosystems at the crack of 10 am. YAWN!

When we're out for the day (or the weekend, or the week...), I always pack food for our trip. I noticed, on this morning, that our lunches have grown since the days when I was toting a toddler and a baby to the Children's Museum for the day!
There's grocery store sushi for each of the kids, a big green apple and a knife to cut it with, crackers, salami, goat cheese, and a clementine to share. And everyone had a banana and a giant nut butter and jelly sandwich in the car for breakfast. 

Our aquatic ecosystems class was fabulous. The kids learned about watersheds, then went between stations to perform a natural water filtration experiment, create art with oil pastels and watercolors, perform another experiment on showerhead design (finally I understand how low-flow showerheads work!), look at pond water through a microscope, and perform yet another experiment on water run-off. 

The highlight of the class, however, was building their very own aquatic ecosystem, with a vase, some glass marbles, a plant (we actually didn't take the plants that they gave us into the house, because they were peace lilies, which are toxic to cats. Yikes! We plan to buy spider plants, instead), and a betta fish! 

The kids. Were. Thrilled.

We came away with our ecosystems and a list of books and activities to continue the fun, and were off to the rest of the museum.

I'm always a little dubious about the museum's tendency to run pop culture-themed exhibits-- 

--but I do get they use them to integrate educational enrichment into the theme. This Transformers exhibit included lots of storytelling and pretend play, of course, but also emphasized product design:

Add "Make toy prototypes" to my list of reasons why I SUPER want a MakerBot!

Also, when I travel with the kids, NOBODY takes my photo so that the 3D works correctly!


We zipped through the new exhibit on TV and film production--

--then went down to our volunteer gig in the Paleo Prep Lab of Dinosphere. Will finished preparing, all but the air abrading, a lovely example of an edmontosaurus annectens chevron:

The full chevron is forked, with the two branches ending in a bulbous piece and the other end extending out a great distance. Will had a nice portion of one of the upper branches. These chevrons run along the bottom of the edmontosaurus' tail.

Syd, coincidentally, had a piece of neural spine:

These are pointed shingle-shaped pieces that run along the TOP of the edmontosaurus' tail!

Unfortunately, this neural spine was part of a great mess of a piece, because the paleontologist who discovered it (Max, I'm looking directly at YOU here!!!) did NOT Paleobond it in the field. Friends, when you do not Paleobond the fossils in the field, they crumble all to hell by the time you get them home. Syd prepped her nice neural spine piece--

and then began to Paleobond and attempt to prep some of the remaining fragments (only Paleobonding herself to the fossil once), while I chipped through some more of the matrix to see what else was in there: 

You're not going to believe it, but it was another freaking tendon. I am the tendon queen. If only tendons were at all rare or even scientifically interesting!

The prep lab tends to have a couple of other volunteers and staff members whenever we're there, but on this day, for some reason at one point all of them had run off, leaving at the Paleo Lab Window (the connection between the lab and the museum exhibit. People can come to the open window and touch fossils and ask questions) a single paleontologist, who needed to run back to his office for a minute. But he couldn't, because he also couldn't leave the window unattended--kids would be licking the Paleobond, and teenagers would be leaving the exhibit with backpacks bulging with T-rex bones.

"I can stand there for a minute," I offered.

My offer was met with an ambiguous combination of Hopeful Eyes and Horror at What is to Come. It's never been overtly stated, but I'm pretty certain that we rank amateurs are never to interact with paying guests in an official capacity. We have not had our interpersonal or guest relations training, and there is no telling what might come out of our mouths. It's the way I feel observing Syd's ballet class, where the teacher likes to ask them all what they had for breakfast while they're stretching; Syd inevitable answers something humiliating, like "cheese," or "leftover French fries," or "my Mommy didn't feed me breakfast today" (the lying little rat! I offered her peanut butter and a spoon to eat it with, and she turned up her nose at it!).

The brave paleontologist took a breath, and dubiously asked me, "Can you talk about this T-rex bone?"

I confidently bullshitted, "Dude, I can TALK about this T-rex bone! How hard can it be, right? 'Hey, Kids, do you like dinosaurs?' and 'Want to touch a real one?'"

I should have stopped talking after that first exclamation point, because the look on the paleontologist's face told me that there is a LOT more to sitting at the Paleo Lab Window than "Hey, Kids do you like dinosaurs?" but he clearly figured, "What the hell?" and left me there, speed-walking away determinedly.

Immediately, a little girl and her mom tentatively walked over to the window, where a big T-rex bone temptingly sits. "Hey!" I said to her enthusiastically, "Do you like dinosaurs?"

"Yes." YES!!!

"Do you want to touch a real one?"

"No." NOOOOOO!!!!

"Well," I said, "Touching a real dinosaur bone doesn't happen every single day. I mean, did you touch a dinosaur bone yesterday?"


"Uh-huh. And did you touch a dinosaur bone the day before yesterday?"

"No." Ooh, she's smiling now. I've got her!

"Well, do you want to touch a dinosaur bone today?"

"No." Damn it to hell!!!

I change tactics. "Do you know where your knee is?"

"Yes," and she touches it.

"The T-rex's knee is right here," and I point to it. "Now, do you know where your hip is?"

She doesn't, but her mom helps her.

"There's a long bone called the femur that connects your knee to your hip. This bone is the T-rex's femur, and it runs from his knee to his hip." I enticingly run my hand all the way from the T-rex's knee to his hip. The kid reaches out her right hand slowly, almost touches the bone, and then hesitates and pulls it back. No. Freakin'. Deal.

I get distracted from my mission, then, as I continue to tell the kid about femurs and T-rexes--I point out the complete skeleton across the way, where she can look for the T-rex's femur, and I get her mom to hike her leg up on the windowsill, so that we can all compare our femurs to the T-rex's. It's not until I turn away a couple of minutes later, the kid having wandered off, see that I now seem to have TWO paleontologists hovering nervously behind me, waiting to reclaim the Window, and go back to my work (where Will teased me, saying "You sounded like a KINDERGARTEN teacher, Mom!" "Child," I replied, "I was talking to a KINDERGARTENER!"), that I suddenly scan my memory and realize that yes, YES, at some point during our conversation, THAT KID TOTALLY TOUCHED THE T-REX BONE!!!!!

Mission accomplished.

I could fuss around in the prep lab all day, but an hour and a half of hard work is about all that the eight-year-old can stand, so off we went.

Back to the world of the dinosaurs. Of COURSE: 
In the paleo art lab, Will sketches a bust of Dracorex Hogwartsis.
 The upper level of Dinosphere (here you're looking down from it into the lower level. This used to be an IMAX theatre!)--

--is focused on paleo art, which is really cool. Sometimes one of the docents will sketch there, asking kids to describe an animal that they're thinking of for him to draw--the drawing always turns out ridiculous, of course. But there are lots of activities that show the kids how to make models and draw figures, etc. The kids' favorite one has loads of bronze-colored Silly Putty and metal skulls of different dinosaurs; the kids can sculpt the musculature and skin onto the bust. Syd was working on her sculpture of Dracorex Hogwartsis for ages, when all of a sudden Will exclaimed to her, "Oh, you've kneaded your hair in!"

And indeed, the child, intent on her work, head bent down so as to almost touch her sculpture, had absent-mindedly kneaded a chunk of her hair into the Silly Putty skin.

And that's how I can tell you that Silly Putty works exactly like bubble gum in hair. I had to finally just cut it out the next morning, bless the poor kid's heart.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Games Kids Love: Story Dice

Santa brought the kids this set of story dice for Christmas, and like most of his stocking gifts (so weird that Santa mostly brings the children educational toys...), I expected that they would mostly be put away in the playroom, and discovered and played with just every now and then. That's where the interactive book on cool things that you can do with mirrors lives, after all, still not played with, and the water clock kit, still not played with.

To my surprise, however, the kids LOVE these story dice! They play with them at least once a week (we have an indulgent amount of playthings for the children, so weekly play is a pretty good record), and even bring them out to play with during playdates, during which it seems that their friends like them, too.

To use the story dice (this may not actually be how you're "supposed" to use the story dice--I've never looked to see if there are any instructions, but this is how the kids have used them from the beginning), you simply roll them--

--and then make up a story that uses each one. Each die has little images engraved onto each side that direct the story, but are quite open to interpretation:

Syd and I played this game recently, on an afternoon that Will spent at the library. Here are some of her stories:

Cute, right?

It's been a while since we've carried on with our art lessons, although I do often remind the kids, when we're drawing together, to remember the Drawing With Children shape families and the Drawing with Children rule that we should work with mistakes instead of, as Syd would prefer, crumpling up the paper and throwing a giant fit. But anyway, these dice would also fit well into a Drawing with Children-style study, since the lines are clean and simple: you could take turns rolling the dice one by one, incorporating each into your drawing as it comes.

Ooh, or written storytelling--perhaps you could just roll one or two, and use that as a story starter. Or roll them one at a time after every paragraph, as a "What happens next?" game.

Or gross motor skills, acting, and improv--Charades can be hard for little ones, but these would be a manageable number of prompts to roll from and act out, especially if they're familiar with the dice.

Got any other good games to recommend to us? Summer is birthday season in our family!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Practicing for the Fashion Show

If there is one thing that we've learned during years of participation in our town's Trashion/Refashion Show (and there are, of course, MANY things that we've learned...), it is that a fashion show takes PRACTICE!!!

There's no point in practicing before the show's first rehearsal--a couple of years the marks on the runway that they want the models to hit have changed, and one year the entire venue was different from the previous year--but after that first rehearsal, we tape down a masking tape runway indoors and draw a sidewalk chalk runway outdoors, and the model practices daily.

This is the first year that Will is also a model, and there was some sister drama to start, hopefully smoothed over now. During their first rehearsal, planning their routine, Will had the audacity to suggest one alteration to the routine that Syd had in her head, and she immediately pitched a giant fit. Rehearsal was stopped and frankly, I sent them both to bed.

The next morning, Syd was in fine form and ready to listen to any and all suggestions, but Will was still pissed at her for last night's behavior, and pissed at me because I'd asked her to practice instead of read, so she grumped and sulked until I sent her away and had Syd practice alone until she had her routine memorized. You can see Will in the background of this video, actually, using birdseed to lure the chickens away from the road:

These are some very superhero poses, aren't they?

These are some very spoiled animals that we have. Whenever we're outside, they insist on being underfoot:

Seriously. The kids and I went for a hike in our woods this weekend, and at one point I turned around to find that all three cats and both chickens had followed us!

Of course, the kids are equally besotted with their pets:

And that's how rehearsal segued into play, which segued into more rehearsal when a friend who's also in the show came over, and that segued into more play, and then the friend left and the kids did their math while I wrote, and then did their spelling and vocabulary, and then we worked on memorizing a Robert Frost poem, and then we listened to a CD of Robert Frost reading some other poems, and then there was Minecraft.

And that was a fine school day!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Behind the Paleo Window: Fossil Prep with the Kids at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The kids and I volunteer in the fossil prep lab of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis about once a month. It's one of the perks of having gone on their Family Dino Dig, and it remains a much loved and much appreciated experience. Here's what it looks like:

We wear Paleo Prep Lab coats, and sit on stools at the big work table. There are gooseneck lights to help us see, and we work with x-acto knives, paintbrushes, and Paleobond. In the background you can see a large legbone fossil with a window behind it; that's the Paleo Window that faces the exhibit hall, and families can come up to that open window to speak to the paleontologist working there and ask questions, one of which often is, "What are those kids doing back there?"

This is an edmontosaurus rib fragment, in fine shape, that I've cleaned and am about to polish. I am always struck, when here, of the huge honor that it is to be able to do this work and handle these objects. 

Will scrapes surrounding dirt off of a fossil. The paleontologists here are wonderful in their trust of children's capabilities; they show the children what to do and then let them get on with it. I'm impressed, as well, that they also don't accept careless work. Scraping off all that debris isn't always fun, but if a kid brings over a fossil to be inspected and it isn't completely clean, she's shown what else needs to be done and sent back to work. 
Look at the detail in this fossil!

The fossils have been carefully field prepped on site, either field jacketed in plaster or wrapped in paper towels and then foil and taped up and put in a plastic container. Each fossil is photographed on site, and mapped, and there's a form filled out with that info, as well as what it's suspected to be, and who discovered it and who all has worked on it. I wonder who discovered this particular fossil?
That's who! How cool is that?!?

I love how seriously the kids take their work, and how focused they are. 

This is Syd making her Very Important Scientist face.

Not all the fossils are great, of course. This one is totally borked. The amateur Paleobond mess isn't doing it any favors, but it's so fragmented that it really doesn't matter. I cleaned it off a bit, but fossils in this kind of shape are generally just donated to the local schools. My kids are so desensitized by their familiarity with really great fossils that I actually had to explain to them how cool the teachers and kids would find this particular specimen. 
This one's another school donation. I'd have had to jackhammer off all that dirt Paleobonded to it there at the far end. This is why they don't let amateurs work with the really fancy fossils!
This is really cool. It's an air abrader machine, and it's used to polish the fossils once they're clean. That little wand blasts out baking soda; you aim it not directly at the fossil, but across it, so that the baking soda can gently smooth the surface and make it shine.

Both kids know how to use it, and it's pretty much our favorite toy in the lab.

We generally stay in the lab for about an hour and a half, which is enough time to completely prepare a small fossil in decent shape, or get some real progress made on a larger piece or one that needs more work. After that, it's back into the museum to play some more, and where do you think the kids always want to go first?

Paleontology exhibit. Of course. 


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