Good Times with my Big Girl

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The positive effects of Mr. Boo attending his new learning centre twice a week continue to ripple throughout our family. One of the many great things is that now I have two full days a week to spend alone with Miss Em. We’ve been making the most of it, especially with this wonderful weather we’ve been having.

First, we set out for a walk and some geocaching. I used to go on woods walks with the kids when they were little, but when they got a bit older the whining started and I soon learned that if I wanted to enjoy myself and not come home drained and frazzled, I’d best go by myself! But lately she has decided that maybe walking isn’t so bad, and with geocaching she gets to enjoy the thrill of the hunt as well. One of the things I like about geocaching is that you get to see places you probably wouldn’t know about or go to otherwise. We found some lovely trails not too far from here, and logged 4 cache finds that day. Here she is perched on a large stump, tucked into the side of which was one of the caches we found.

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The next day I took her to see a special concert by the Victoria Symphony that was put on for school-aged children. We arrived at the theatre to see about half a dozen huge school buses unloading hordes of kids. It was chaos! We homeschoolers also had a section reserved, and it was great fun to pass through the yelling teachers and children marching in line to get to our group. We were well represented, with two rows of seats taken up by homeschoolers! The concert was themed on Nature. Miss Em recognized Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Greig’s Peer Gynt (“that morning song”), and we especially enjoyed the final number: John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park.

The day after that, Mr. Boo was back at “school” (despite the negative connotations that word has for homeschoolers, it’s the simplest way to refer to it) and me and Miss Em took a field trip to the Royal Museum of BC in Victoria. We went with a mother-and-son duo: I’m great friends with the mum and Miss Em is great friends with the son, so much fun was had! The kids wandered through the galleries, and the grownups followed – it’s the first time I’ve been there and been able to look at exhibits I’m interested in, even if my kids aren’t!

The photo below shows the kids at a photographic exhibit – this station asked them to come up with thoughts about what happened before or after the photo was taken. Miss Em ignored their instructions and drew a picture of a lion (since the photo had lions). I noticed that a few other kids had skipped the instructions and done their own thing on the papers provided. I thought it was funny: I think these “educational” activities are often rather contrived, and the kids saw right through it. It was fun to see a few other rebel souls doing their own thing with the exhibit!

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After seeing the exhibits we watched an IMAX movie about the Mars Mission, then headed to a nearby Board Game cafe. I’ve never been to one before and it was very cool. They had hundreds of board games, many that were relatively new and modern, and for a flat rate you can stay and play as long as you want. It’s a great way to try out a game before you buy it, and there is a small cafe too. We dropped the kids off there and went to a nearby Oyster Bar for a “buck a shuck” special. I absolutely love raw oysters and it was a very special treat to indulge (another bonus of not bringing the younger child)! When we got back to the cafe, we decided to play Cards Against Humanity with the kids. Fortunately, both our families are very open with our kids about sexuality (as in, we answer any and all questions matter-of-factly) and while a few of the cards drew some blushes, we had a great time and many laughs (and Miss Em won!).

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I have to confess that the respite earned by having Mr. Boo at the learning centre has shown me just how difficult a task I was faced with trying to homeschool both kids. His limitations in terms of what he can tolerate, and my tendency to shy away from situations where he might act out in public, have affected our homeschooling in ways I probably wasn’t ready to admit. For Miss Em and myself, it has meant more time together, and more outings doing things that I would not normally be able to do with him in tow. This past week has been really wonderful, and I’m so happy to have these opportunities.

 

Categories: family life, Homeschooling, Miss Em | Leave a comment

What exactly is a Learning Centre, anyway?

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In my last post, I talked about the new learning centre that Mr. Boo is attending. Some people might be confused about how a learning centre fits in with the concept of homeschooling, so I thought it might be helpful to discuss the role of learning centres in homeschooling.

Families who choose homeschooling are usually dissatisfied with the school system, and often try to avoid duplicating the classroom environment. However, as local homeschooling communities grow, they soon realize that having a place you can go – to hang out, learn together, do crafting or chemistry experiments, or listen to a local expert do a show and tell about something interesting – can be very handy. In my years of homeschooling I’ve been involved in several attempts to find such a place, and it can be challenging.

The facility needs to be available during the day, child friendly and preferably baby-proof since the families attending have kids of all ages, have tables and chairs that can be set up as needed, a kitchenette is very handy, and storage is an often overlooked need. It gets really tedious to cart bins of projects and supplies back and forth, and families have to shuffle them around when they can’t attend due to illness or whatever.

If someone has a suitable home, with enough room for everybody, that is a possible solution. But it puts a lot of pressure on the host family, and if they are ill or otherwise unavailable it can mean a cancelled day.

The next step up is to find a community space, but as anyone who has been involved in a non-profit organization knows, such spaces are usually costly. Parents may chip in for the cost, or if the families belong to the same funded homeschooling program (here in BC they are called Distributed Learning programs), that program may provide some funding for the space. Our DL program supported our community in setting up such a space a couple of years ago, but it lasted only one year due to rising rental and insurance costs for the facility, lack of other options in our area, and changes to the DL funding policies. It also required a huge amount of work on the part of the parents involved, and ultimately it folded.

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Another challenge for homeschoolers often occurs when the children reach adolescence. While the younger set is happy to participate in family-oriented get togethers with children of all ages, the older kids like to be around other kids closer in age to themselves, with activities that are geared toward their interests. They also love a bit of independence thrown in, such as the ability to go across the street to a coffee shop to grab some pastries! We had a great teen group in our area that met in the centre of a small town where the kids could walk to nearby shops; the space was comfy and had a kitchen and was a great hang out for the parents and kids. Sadly, we lost the space and some of the families “aged out” and it hasn’t been put back together just yet.

The next step beyond a parent-organized space is a learning centre that is run by an organization. Such a centre might best be described a small private school that is geared towards homeschoolers, who generally only want part time programs, perhaps one or two days a week at the most, and who are not looking for school-style academic instruction, but support and facilitation for project-based and learner-directed learning. We are very fortunate in our area to have a number of such centres sprouting up here. They offer a wide range of programs, workshops, and activities for homeschooling families. Some require enrolment on a term-by-term basis whereas others operate on a drop-in basis. Some invite entire families to participate, while others provide full child supervision and parents can just drop the kids off and go.

 

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Finally, there is the issue of homelearners with special needs. The incidence of autism is such that learning centres and special schools for kids with autism are popping up all over the place, it seems. There are two such schools in our area, though they are both a long commute away for us. Also, when I last enquired, they did not allow part-time attendance, which rules them out as desirable options for many homeschooling families. Because families in BC with children on the autism spectrum are eligible for funding from various sources, such programs are usually set up to accept direct funding from those sources.

The distinction between “learning centre” and “small private school” can get a bit blurry. I use the term “school” to refer to a program that runs 4 or 5 days a week, enrols children on a term or semester basis, is not set up for whole families to participate, and has a program of learning and activities that is set up by the administrators and in which full participation is generally required in order to attend. I use the term “learning centre” to refer to a facility that is set up for families to come together with children of all ages for activities related to learning, or a more school-like situation that is only available on a part-time basis (once or twice a week).

In summary, every learning centre is different. They range from programs designed and executed entirely by the parents for no other reason than they wanted to make it happen, to government-funded programs run by organizations that offer alternative educational opportunities. Learning centres can be a valuable way for local homeschoolers to come together and connect, to learn together and grow as a community. They can also provide support for homeschooling parents who are finding it difficult to keep up with their kids’ growing interests, or who need respite for whatever reason.

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Categories: Education, Homeschooling, rethinking education | Leave a comment

Growing His World

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Over the years that we have been homeschooling, I have tried taking Mr. Boo to any number of classes, activities, clubs, and field trip groups and we have always ended up dropping out. Gymnastics, swimming lessons, kung fu, clay, therapeutic riding, young naturalists’ club…you name it, we’ve probably tried it, and the pattern goes a little something like this.

“Hey, Mr. Boo, do you think you would like to do [insert activity here]?”

“Yeah, that would be awesome!”

At the first lesson or outing, he would be all excited and enthusiastic. By the third lesson he’d be lukewarm, by the fifth or sixth lesson we’d have constant battles just to get him out the door, and his behaviour would become really disruptive for the rest of the class/group. Eventually the stress of it all would get too much for us and we’d quit. I kept thinking that time and maturity would solve these issues, but the pattern just kept repeating.

Two years ago he started attending an after-school program for kids with autism at a local centre for people with disabilities. The staff there are amazing. When his behaviour became a problem, they saw it as an opportunity to learn how to better support him. He was always accepted, never judged, and always supported. Eventually we made it past the “I hate it” stage, and the battles to get out the door, and he began to enjoy going there. He made friends, and now he looks forward to seeing them each week.

He goes twice a week for 3 hours each time. They often go to the park or some local venue, and on days when the kids get out of school early for teacher training, they take field trips to fun places like the indoor playground in the neighbouring “big city”. I used to take my kids there and places like it when they were younger, and it was always a very stressful experience for me. I had to stick so close to Mr. Boo, when what I really wanted was to sit with all the other mums and socialize. Plus, when Mr. Boo inevitably would shove some kid down a slide or whatever, it was extremely stressful for me (I am a very non-confrontational person) and I often ended up in tears dragging my crying child to the car. With the after-school program, he got to have a blast at one of his favourite places and I didn’t have to deal with the stress (the staff, not being as emotionally involved as a parent, deal with this stuff as part of their job and handle it well).

With the success of the after-school program, I felt he was ready to expand his horizons a bit more, get out in the world more, but I was stumped. I felt like we had tried and tried and nothing seemed to work for him, and I was tired of the struggles and battles. It was slowly dawning on me that perhaps I was in over my head when it came to giving him “more”. Project-based homeschooling is great, and we’ve all got this life-at-home thing down pat; it’s relatively peaceful at home for the most part (given that we have two kids on the spectrum). But it has seemed clear lately that he is ready for more, perhaps even eager for it without knowing exactly what “it” is. It’s that parental instinct that tells you it’s time to move to the next level, that your kid is ready. But I didn’t know what that would look like, or how to do it.

The answer came in the form of a new learning centre in our area for kids with autism, which I learned about through one of my facebook groups. While they offer 5 full days a week, families have the option of attending as few as 2 days a week, which is about as much as we felt Mr. Boo could handle right now (and honestly, 5 days a week is just too much time away from the family for our liking). Turns out the lady running the program is a registered provider with our homeschool program’s special ed division and I was able to get feedback from other families in the program – it was all promising.

So last week, Hubby and I toured the learning centre and met the head instructor, a behavioural therapist with a resume a mile long. While her extensive years of work with kids and adults with disabilities was impressive, Hubby and I were much more impressed with the answers she gave to our questions and what we saw of how the program was run. It was apparent that this lady understood these kids and their needs as well as us parents do (and, in some ways, probably better). When I confided in her that our son can become physically aggressive when he is driven past his coping point, she confided to me that every child in the program had come with that same note on their file, and not once had they had any incidences of violent behaviours. She emphasized that their days are designed to give the kids plenty of breaks and opportunities to recharge (they have a sensory room, for example), so that each child meets their full potential. With only six kids in the program, and an assistant or therapist there each day with the head instructor, you can’t beat the adult:child ratio, and we loved that it was a small group.

For those of you not familiar with a learning centre and/or who may be wondering how that fits into homeschooling or unschooling, I plan to write a post on that topic soon. In short, this one is essentially a very small private school for homeschoolers, paid for with our autism funding. The educational philosophy is very consistent with our own – the kids do their academic work through project-based learning, in which the kids direct the project and participate to the full extent of their abilities. Some examples of current projects are: expanding the treehouse in the forest play area with the assistance of a licensed carpenter; converting a garden shed to a chicken coop, building a run, and raising layer chicks (the learning centre is on a 5-acre property); and putting on a play.

Hubby and I left the tour full of joy and excitement at the wonderful new world that is about to open up for our son. He had his first day this week and it went very well – he made friends, he participated in the group discussions and activities, he played, and he even made it through the afternoon martial arts class (they do a different class each afternoon: swimming, skating, and music are also offered). He is excited about going back tomorrow, and we are thrilled about all the new experiences that await him.

I do expect that there may be a transitional period where he decides he wants to quit, where we will struggle to get him out the door, and where he may try the patience of everyone around him. I am determined to make it through! But my gut tells me that it might just go differently this time. The instructor said the children are very supportive of one another, and Mr. Boo is now at an age where he forms meaningful friendships with other kids – perhaps enough to keep him motivated to stick with the group through the tougher parts of adjusting to new routines and expectations.

I’ve been thinking about the implications of our decision to enroll him in the learning centre, and what that means for us, or says about us, as homeschoolers. I don’t think these things are incompatible at all, and I’ll expand on that in my next post. But I’m also coming to accept that I need help and there is nothing wrong with admitting it. Raising a child with autism is no easy task (that’s a subject for yet another post!), and homeschooling such a child presents its own challenges. I’m responsible not just for making sure he is in an environment that is conducive to learning, but also for making sure that he has real world experiences. This is relatively easy for most homeschoolers: the number of activities, classes, clubs, and field trip offerings in our small community alone are impressive, and as homeschooling grows so do the myriad choices and opportunities for homeschooling families. But for me and my son, such opportunities come with particular challenges and I am ready and willing to admit that I am not always cut out for them.

I have much more to say about all of this, but for now I’m going to end by saying that my mama heart is very full this week. I’m so excited for Mr. Boo and all that awaits him. I feel blessed that we have found such good people to bring into his life, and that he is about to be part of something really special.

 

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Categories: autism, Education, Mr Boo | 2 Comments

Back to Knitting

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One of the great things about quitting my job is that now I have evenings free. I like to sit down after dinner and watch Netflix while I knit. Not only can I make stuff, but keeping my hands busy prevents mindless snacking!

I’ve got more hats and scarves than I know what to do with, but one thing I can never get enough of is handmade wool socks. My feet get cold very easily, and I basically live in socks all through winter, even sleeping with them on. So natural wool is a must for comfort and breathability. Having them made by hand just makes them all the nicer.

I use patterns from the book Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd. What I like about this book is that it gives patterns for each size of yarn, from fine sock yarn all the way up to chunky yarn. I don’t even have to think about guage, etc. I just flip to the right page and begin. The book also has details on the trickier aspects of sock knitting, such as the heel flap or picking up selvedge edges for the heel turn, and the Kitchener stitch for sewing up the toes, which I always need to review! Finally, it contains dozens of cable and lace patterns if you want to get fancy! I don’t have the patience for that; plus it makes it hard for me to watch a movie and knit as I need to focus on the pattern.

My favourite way to knit socks is two at a time on a pair of circular needles. But if I don’t have the right size I’ll happily use double-pointed needles, especially if it’s a simple stockinette pattern that doesn’t take too long (otherwise I suffer from single sock syndrome, where by the time you finish one sock you really don’t feel like repeating the whole process a second time!). If you are new to knitting or need a refresher, I recommend Very Pink Knits on YouTube. They have great tutorials for all kinds of knitting techniques, including this one for knitting two socks at a time on a pair of circular needles.

The socks below are a pair I just finished. I used a 2×2 rib and continued it on the top part all the way down to the toes. I don’t wear open shoes in the winter, so the extra bulk isn’t an issue for me. For the socks in the top photo, I just used a simple stockinette stitch because the striping pattern is more complex and I think it shows better without ribbing.

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Categories: Crafting, lifestyle | 1 Comment

Catching Up

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It has been a while since I last posted. Mostly I have not had time to blog, but I’m hoping that will change. In fact, I’m hoping a lot of things change this year!

2014 was an interesting, challenging, and somewhat difficult year for our family. There was a real slowdown for Husband in terms of paid work, and he decided to devote his time to learning a new trade, in a manner of speaking, by developing extensive networks in our community through volunteering, attending meetings, etc. It meant he received virtually no income last year and I took on a lot of the breadwinning with my work-from-home editing job. I really loved the work, but the deadlines began to take their toll on me and the pay was not great. I actually pulled a few all-nighters, which is not much fun at my age! I also began to really miss the kids (and their complaints about my frequent non-availability tugged hard at my heart), the state of the house teetered precariously on the border of chaos, and I grew more and more unhappy.

Fortunately, things have begun to pick up for Husband, and last month I was able to quit my editing job. I do miss working for my boss, who was a good guy, but I really do not miss the stress of having to drop everything to meet a deadline. And I’m loving being a full time homemaker again! With the holidays it took me some time but my house is now back in order. Today was my weekly housecleaning and it is amazing how much less time it takes when I’m not decluttering at the same time!

2015 is shaping up to be a great year for us. Last year was very difficult due to our income being dramatically reduced, but Husband has secured a great contract for the next few months, and there is talk of it being renewed after this project. To top it off, the time he devoted to networking looks like it may have paid off – he is the top candidate right now for a local job with our district that pays very well. If all goes as hoped and planned, we will be able to seriously consider building the (very much needed) new house on our property some time this year.

With my house in order and the kids back into a good homeschooling routine, I’ve freed up some time for myself during the evenings and on weekends. I’ve already knitted myself a new pair of socks and am working on another pair. I’m also making a quilt for my mother that I am really excited about. I’ll post more on those creations later. Plus I’m volunteering with my local Green Party of Canada riding as we gear up for a federal election this year. I’m really enjoying meeting new people in my community! I’m also hoping to now devote some time to this blog again and provide more regular posts. So stay tuned!

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Categories: family life | 1 Comment

Animated Music Videos

Miss Em has long enjoyed making videos. Whether it’s live filming, Screen Flow vids of her playing online with friends, or animated drawings, her skill with editing grows noticeably each year.

Right now, her interest lies in creating animated music videos to go with her favourite songs (a very Tween thing to do, IMO – she admittedly describes it as “emo”). Not only does she create the animated images frame by frame, but she then must coordinate them with the music. There is a huge skill set she is building here, and it’s hard to deny that she is building expertise in an area that has much potential for a future career. Two ideas we are working on right now are creating a series of workshops for kids who wish to learn digital art skills and also leading an online conference on the subject in The Village – our homeschool program’s online hub.

Recently, she and her BFF decided to work together on a video. Each took a section of song and created images to go with it. I love that she is doing collaborative work: it is such great practice for her socially and emotionally as she navigates the potentially tricky waters of working with someone else’s creations. The clips below are part of a WIP (work in progress) that she agreed to share with me so I can provide an example of her work.

The first clip shows the video intro. HuskyDragonWolvez is her username, reflecting three of her top animal obsessions over the years. DragonWolf Productions is the name of her “company”, and Slenderchu Productions (a combination of two favourite characters – Slenderman and Pikachu) is her friend.

The next clip shows Miss Em’s portion of the video. While only a few seconds long, this represents hours and hours of work. She told me that she was unhappy with the limited options for text effects, and she figured out how to create some of her own by changing the text on a frame-by-frame basis. So those words that seem to pop out of the screen? Yeah, she did that. :-) And she also made the words move around and appear to fall down into the water. In fact, that drowning scene is one of my favourites, so full of emotion.

I’m so very proud of her and the hard work she has put into this (and her other projects). This is true passion, right here. This girl, who can barely sit still for busywork that is imposed upon her, spends hours and hours of time focused on the creation of these videos and her other artwork. That is the type of focus and passion that Sir Ken Robinson talked about in his book on creativity, and it’s difficult to truly nurture this without a good amount of unstructured free time. Yes, I admit, it is very validating for me as a homeschooling, freeschooling parent. But mostly my heart is filled with joy, because finding one’s passion is – IMNSHO – one of the keys to true happiness.

 

 

Categories: Miss Em, natural learning | Leave a comment

More paper game crafting

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I recently wrote about Mr. Boo’s interest in paper crafting. In that post, I mentioned Joe’s Plush Adventure, his new project for Project-Based Homeschooling. What he built that day was a test level for trying out some ideas (I thought that was pretty farsighted for a 10 year old!). This week he started on the actual game.

In PBH, we are encouraged to use journals, and one reason is to document our kids’ ideas so that we can return to them later if they are stuck or just keep track of them for future reference. The first thing Mr. Boo asked me to write down was a list of “What we learned from the test level”. Here is a list of his Do’s and Don’ts, as dictated to me:

  • first worlds must be easy; our test level got harder as it went along
  • cubes (and any other 3D objects) must be drawn first
  • each level must be long (but not too long)
  • longer levels need more checkpoints
  • without a flag, the level is not completable (unless you have a boss, then you don’t need a flag)
  • floating platforms don’t work!
  • do not put too many box spawners

He also decided that his game would have multiple worlds, and each world would have multiple levels. Players begin at the World Hub (shown below) where there are portals to each world. World 2 and above are locked (as shown by the padlock symbols that cover the portals). World 0 is a tutorial level where the players can learn the moves of the game.

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He hadn’t finished numbering the worlds before I took this photo. He also noticed himself that his “3” was backwards, and had me draw a “2” for him so he could ensure that one was done correctly.

World 0 will have 4 levels: ground movement, air movement, combat, and extra moves. Each level will teach skills specific to that area. For example, the ground movement level will teach: move, jump, slide, and jumpslide, and that’s the level he made this time around.

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The image above shows the spawn point (the purple circle with a lower case letter j, for Joe, the main character). The player moves toward the blue circle and sees the X, which prompts the player to press X (I should point out that the player will be holding a Playstation3 remote, although it is not hooked up to anything, obviously). This produces the Jump move, and the player uses that to get up on the cube (making this cube was fun: he wanted it twice the size of the one in the test level, which he made using graph paper, and he was able to calculate himself how many squares to use for each side of the cube – yay for relevant math learning!). The player practices the jump move again by jumping over the river. The player is then prompted to press the circle button, which produces the Slide move, and the player slides through the tunnel.

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After that is a second tunnel with an obstacle at the end (shown above). By now the player knows that Circle = slide and X = jump so he should be able to figure out to slide through the tunnel and jump at the end to avoid the small cube. This is the Jumpslide maneouver. The blue circle is the portal back to the Level Hub, where the player can choose to move on to Level 2 (which will be about air movements) or return to the World Hub.

Here he is, demonstrating this level in action!

I’m blown away by how rich and detailed this project is, and how well thought out and organized his ideas are. Often times it seems he is just randomly throwing things together, but he has clearly put a lot of thought into this. Hooray for project-based learning!

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Categories: a day in the life, Crafting, learning is fun, Mr Boo, Project Based Homeschooling | 2 Comments

Downtime for Mama: RPGing with Skyrim!

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I learned early on that my kids need plenty of downtime built into their day, especially after we’ve been out running errands or doing activities. I, too, need downtime, albeit not as often. One of the advantages of having older children is having more opportunities to do things just for myself. I run three times a week, take my dog for walks in the forest, and pursue other interests such as sewing and knitting on evenings when I don’t have work to do. Sometimes I binge-watch a TV series via Netflix, or online, and I read books while I’m snuggling with Mr. Boo at bedtime, waiting for him to fall asleep. It’s really important for me to make sure I carve some downtime for myself out of my week. As they say, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Lately I’ve discovered a new pastime, playing a role-playing game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now, while I do like video games, it’s not really my thing. Yes, I played through the Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time and loved it, and also enjoyed playing Banjo-Kazooie while my kids watched (they were toddlers back then), but after a while those types of games all seemed pretty much the same. My husband likes to play games like Battlefield and Far Cry, which are too testosterone-laden for my liking, and Miss Em and I enjoyed watching him play through The Last of Us (great storylines), but I hadn’t found any games that made me want to come back and keep playing when other opportunities beckoned.

About a year ago, my husband came home with a copy of Skyrim that he’d bought from a sale bin and thought the kids might like. We are a Mac family and Skyrim only runs on PC. We did have a PC hack going on our Mac, but as it wasn’t legit, it crashed a lot. Last month we finally bought a copy of Windows so Mr. Boo could take his programming course from Youth Digital, and installed it on our Mac using Bootcamp. Mr. Boo pointed out that now I’d be able to play Skyrim (neither kid was interested in doing so themselves), but I really didn’t know much about it. So he showed me a YouTube trailer for the game, and I thought it looked pretty intriguing. I was definitely blown away by the scenery!

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I was big into the fantasy genre of books when I was a teen and young adult. I read Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Steven R. Donaldson, etc. I still have my complete collection of The Belgariad and The Mallorean – which I re-read about every 5 – 10 years – and I own all the Shannara books (incredible series: 13+ books and they are all awesome!). And yes, I dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons when I was in high school (the early ’80s). But I just couldn’t get into it. Frankly, it required way too much imagination, and the action moved a bit too slowly for my liking. But this…Skyrim is everything I’d wished D&D was back then. I am loving this game!

I had no idea how much fun I would have creating, playing, and developing my character. The graphics are amazing, the experience is rich and varied, and I’m quite certain I can get a whole lot of game play out of this before I get tired of it: there is just so much to do!

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Being one who doesn’t read the manual, I jumped in with both feet, but after playing a few hours I realized there was probably a lot here I was missing. So I headed on over to YouTube and found this amazing complete walkthrough playlist by Culveyhouse. As a narrator, his voice is pleasant to listen to (something that is seriously lacking in many YouTube videos and especially important if you have 400+ videos to watch!) and he does a great job of balancing information on all the little things you can do with not making it boring to watch. The first 25 or so videos, which take you from the opening scene up to learning your first Shout words, taught me SO much about all the things you can do in the game and really upped the experience for me.

In order to ensure I don’t encounter any spoilers, I started skipping around after episode 32 and I only watch videos for quests I’ve already done. If I see anything really important I missed, I can always go back to that area, and I just really enjoy seeing the strategies he employs and reliving the quest experience from a slightly different perspective. If you are a fan of Skyrim, or want to see what it is all about, I highly recommend his walkthrough playlist.

I’ve been fairly busy and haven’t had a chance to play for a couple of days now, and I miss it! But once I get started, I like to play for at least a couple of hours, so I save it for my evenings off – it gives me something to look forward to!

skyrimmom_616

Categories: family life, lifestyle, Personal Growth | Leave a comment

Learning with Paper Crafts

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Last week, Mr. Boo was inspired…by something, I don’t know what…to make a paper game for his stuffies, and he has been doing tons of crafting with paper ever since.

This sudden passion for paper crafting happily coincided with this past week’s theme in my Project-Based Homeschooling Master Class: making (being a maker, nurturing a maker, and mentoring a maker). Like a textbook example of PBH, these paper projects are manifesting as all sorts of learning. We’ve covered physics, math, geometry, fine motor skills, and problem solving. As is usually the case with child-led learning, my son knows exactly what to do – it’s me who needs to learn how to stay out of his way!

For his first project, a basketball court, I confess I did not do a great job of letting him problem-solve. He caught me off guard and my natural inclination was to “help”, thus robbing him of the opportunity to figure it out himself. This is why I’m loving my Master Class so much – I tend to try to solve their problems, rather than let them do it themselves. Consciously, I understand that I shouldn’t do this, but it’s a bad habit; the course helps keep me mindful of my role as mentor. Fortunately, he didn’t hold it against me, and when he next came to me I was better prepared.

The court has two hoops and there are “power-up items” scattered about the court that grant the player special abilities. He decided that the court needed some decorating, and I suggested we look up the patterns of real courts. He pulled up Google Images and copied some of the lines onto his court. Along the way there was lots of drawing, writing, cutting, and taping to work those fine motor skills (something he struggles with as part of his autism).

When he first made this hoop, he encountered a problem: how to get it to stand up?

When he first made this hoop, he encountered a problem: how to get it to stand up?

The solution: straws!

The solution: straws!

The playing field, complete with powerups (flaming hoop, sword, missiles, health).

The playing field, complete with power ups (flaming hoop, sword, missiles, health).

Joe checks out the new game.

Joe checks out the new game.

The day he built this game was also the first day back to his after-school program for kids with autism. He brought the game with him to show all his friends! I loved how much pride he took in his creation.

He went again the next day (he goes twice a week) and they went on a field trip to a local park with a nice playground. Mr. Boo loves playgrounds. But when I came to pick him up, he got off the bus with a bag full of paper! Apparently he and his friend had spent the whole time at the park sitting at a picnic table creating gaming worlds and levels using paper. Those creations stayed at the centre, so I don’t have photos, but the drive to create didn’t stop there.

Back at home he had a big idea for a paper board game that he named “Joe’s Plush Adventure”. He talked about it constantly and couldn’t wait for project time. On the next homeschool day, we headed out to Staples to pick up some supplies (paper, scissors, tape, and thick markers) and put aside our Little Big Planet 2 project to work on this instead. In a brief moment of school-ingrained thinking and parental doubt, I wondered whether I should make him finish the first project before moving on to the second, but I knew immediately that doing so would only squash his enthusiasm about this paper project and make him resent the programming project. Besides, he is progressing with game design through other outlets and this project is something that better fits the bill: the LBP2 idea came about due to a lack of ideas for project time, whereas this was a giant spark that lit him up. There was no way I was going to throw water on that flame!

So, without further ado, here is what he’s done so far:

Making status bars (for health, magic, and strength)...and writing UPSIDE DOWN (so I could colour while he wrote)!

Making status bars (for health, magic, and strength)…and writing UPSIDE DOWN (so I could colour while he wrote)!

Geometry: making paper cubes.

Geometry: making paper cubes (and seeing how graph paper makes for more even sides).

Big challenges to solve with this one!

Big challenges to solve with this one!

The big challenge came when he wanted to make a pillar on which the character could wall jump up to the top, then hop over to a floating platform. How to make a floating platform? He didn’t want to place it on its own pillar; he wanted to have it suspended from a ceiling. How to make a ceiling? He attached that ripped piece of paper to the top of the pillar, but oops – it just flopped over. So he taped a straw to it. That was better. Then he tried to stick a piece of paper perpendicular to it for a ceiling. That didn’t work. He made the ceiling piece smaller, then came up with using a straw to prop it up.

After that, he had to experiment with different lengths of tape for suspending the platform from the ceiling. Meanwhile, the thing kept tipping over. He used a pair of scissors to weigh it down, which worked until he added more paper to the thing. Then he tried making a cube out of paper and using it as a weight: not heavy enough. Finally he sent me outside to find a rock, and that did the trick. I’m proud that I kept my mouth shut during all this, given that I already knew the answers. He never got frustrated or asked/expected me to solve it. He just kept coming up with ideas and trying them out until it worked. THAT is real learning!

Watching his enthusiasm, his determination, his drive, his pride…I thought to myself, THIS is why I homeschool. I love giving him the freedom to pursue his passions; honouring his ideas with dedicated time, space, and materials; and – most of all – sharing in the joy of learning, creating, and discovering.

Categories: learning is fun, Mr Boo, Project Based Homeschooling | 3 Comments

Memory Boxes

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I recently wrote about a little box that Miss Em made out of polymer clay. It was a tribute to her former obsession with ladybugs. Well, she has since added two more boxes.

I’m fascinated by where this is coming from. A while back, we were having a talk about passions and how they relate to natural learning. Unlike the system used in most schools, where a variety of subjects are tackled all at once (math, social studies, chemistry, French, etc), I have found that when learning is allowed to unfold naturally, it proceeds more like unit-based studies, where students focus on one topic and then explore it from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of ways.

For example, Miss Em’s interest in ladybugs manifested as: trips to the library to read books about ladybugs (reading), watching movies about ladybugs (listening), drawing pictures of ladybugs (fine motor skills) annotated with words (writing), learning about the role of ladybugs in gardening (living skills), walks through the neighbourhood looking for ladybugs to collect and identify (observing in nature), painting rocks to look like ladybugs (art), and counting spots on ladybugs to determine the species (math). A later interest in Orcas added a bit of history as she learned about whaling and the use of whale oil as fuel, and an interest in dragons provided insight into the myths and legends of various cultures around the world such as Norse and Chinese (cultural anthropology).

A tiny dragon.

A tiny dragon.

I guess this conversation about natural learning and passions really resonated with Miss Em. These boxes are an example of how children process information in a variety of ways. As she crafts these boxes, she is thinking back to those days when she was delving into each of these topics, how that relates to learning and being a learner, and recognizing her ability to learn about whatever interests her, to take ownership of her learning and knowledge. One might say she is dipping into philosophy as she contemplates these things.

It’s sad to me that the process of mass schooling interferes so much with the natural process of learning that few people get to witness it in its untouched state. I find it a beautiful thing to behold…

Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs

Categories: Crafting, Miss Em, natural learning | Leave a comment

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