Thursday, February 28, 2013

Doesn't get much better

Today was one one those days you hope comes back again, many times.
Sizzler science experiments

Painting sponges

And mommy art ........... make for a very good day indeed!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Did you see that?

My sizzler is extremely observant. He notices things. Things I don't see until he points them out. I love this about him.
Today we were on the way home from town (we live in the sticks) and stopped at one of our favorite farm stands to get some oranges. Now I have stopped here 100 times (well maybe not that many) in the last 15 years to buy mandarins and other local yummy stuff and never noticed what the sizzler saw today. There it is in the picture above. Can you tell what it is? Right away he says "mom, look it's an old truck" by golly it is son!
Now it's time for the close inspection. What is it? Is it a Ford? Model T? He has to know.
Here comes the farmer. He's an old timer, been here forever. The sizzler asks him what it is and where did he get it. It turns out it is a nurse rig from Southern California used to supply the spray trucks in the farm fields.
You don't say.
"Why is it in the bushes?" He inquires further. The farmer tells him he parked it there and the bushes grew over it.
"Ok" and he returns to his investigation of this oldie truck.
My sweet son loves antique stuff. Old trucks are a favorite. We are always on the look out for them. If we see one we point it out to each other then say "old truck bump" and we do knuckles together.
There are a few oldie trucks on our regular routes. When we get to them I have to remember to drive slow so he can get a good gander at them. So today I decided to stop to see two of our " friends".

For many years the sizzler and I have driven past these two trucks (they are close to each other on the same stretch of road) and slowed way down. I've gotten so used to it that I even do it sometimes when he's not with me. I appreciate that he's given me that. The gift of slowing down and taking a close look at what's around me.
You just never know what you might see.
Enjoy the journey!

You don't have to want to

My wise friend Craig gave me this line to use with the sizzler. I've been using it everyday since he shared this amazing bit of parenting advice at our Valentine's dinner.
When it's time for his "must do's" I often hear "I don't want to!" And now I have the perfect response:
"You don't have to want to!" I say as I smile my most loving, patient smile. "You just need to do it" as I continue to gaze at my awesome sizzler.
He doesn't usually respond with the same loving, patient smile and a resounding "ok mom!"
I get one of the following responses:
  • "Nooooooo!" As he flops on the floor
  • "Can I play angry birds?" Uh, no
  • "I have to go to the bathroom" as he grabs he Lego ideas book and heads to the toilet and spends forever in there
  • "What's your favorite deep sea creature?" Trying to distract me
  • Or my favorite, "huggie" as he runs at me and gives me a super duper bear bug (kinda hard to resist)
Sizzlers are experts at avoiding work, especially if they have to write. Oh how my sizzler hates to write. He has convinced himself that he can't, that it's too hard, that something really bad will happen. But, he is getting better.
I have to remind myself that he is not torturing me on purpose, although sometimes it certainly feels like that.
There is hope though. Here and there I am getting the "ok" response and he gets going on what I asked him to do. When he first starting doing it I was a bit in shock. I had to hide my dropped jaw and surprised look. Oh, so he can do it! I was told not to fall into the trap of thinking that just because he did it once he can do it again.
Sizzlers are regularly irregular. You can't bank on anything. Every day is new and exciting, heck, from moment to moment I hardly know what to expect. Things can be going so well and then bam! He's upset and convinced he can't do something. It is a bit of a roller coaster ride. Weeeeee.......
On the flip side, my sizzler is the most loving and sensitive boy. As we were reading our Zoology book about pinnipeds this morning he got really upset. He was reading about the fur trade and how many seals were killed for their pelts. He could not finish the paragraph. He was angry. He was feeling very deeply about this so I finished the paragraph for him and told him how I see so much empathy in him for animals. That someday he will do great work and I wouldn't be surprised it if involved helping animals. His response:
"I'm going to be an ocean policeman!"
Awesome. Can't wait.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where o where has she gone?

Holy smokes! I haven't blogged for several days. Where have I been?

Good question!

I've been exploring my creativity. Yep. I have. And it' been quite fun. I must say. And messy, very messy.

I blame it all on Mati Rose McDonough and Kelly Rae Roberts.

After my last attempt to have "art class" with the sizzler I realized that I had so much fun creating that I wanted more. So I looked around on the web and came across Mati and Kelly. I bought their books. Meanwhile, I set up a space to do art. That was super fun. I liked the idea of having a "studio" space. I collected all my artsy supplies and went to work. Then I lost my inspiration, and got busy, so the studio got dusty.

But on Tuesday, the day it snowed and the sizzler spent the afternoon wallowing in the joyous white fluff, my new art books arrived, oh boy!

I decided to cuddle up with a cup of tea and my new books.
I soon realized that I would need a bigger studio. This was amazing stuff and I was going to need to a lot of room to do this. So I moved the "studio" into the bedroom, in front of my big window, under my happy lights.
Mati's book is called Daring Adventures in Paint. Oh dear. I need to be daring. You see when I do art I usually have an idea of what I want the outcome to look like. She wanted me to forget that. Just start painting. Layer on the colors. Be bold. I did. I liked it. (Big grin)

I did start with a small canvas. Seemed safe.

Daring, ok, here I, blue, pink, pistachio. Smear, smudge, scrape. Add a little here, a cute image there. Not too shabby. Kinda fun, sorta childish and playful. I like it!

The sizzler comes in and takes a look at my creation and says "why did you label the sail?"

Good feeling gone.

I work so hard to be positive with him, why can't he say something nice?

The thing is he just says the first thing that comes to mind. I must remember this. Do not take sizzler comments to heart.

So I carry on. I do not need his approval!

I will continue to be daring and bold and silly and have a darn good time doing it!


And it will get messy!

Oh, and if you are looking to get inspired to create watch Kelly's manifesto

One more thing.......

The really cool thing about this new endeavor is that I'm using my father in law's paints, brushes and canvases. He passed away in October of 2011. He spent the last 7 years of his life here on our property as our neighbor across the driveway. The sizzler spent the first 7 years of his life with his British grandparents right next door. Super special. Anyway, as I use grandad's supplies I feel a new connection to him. He painted in a wonderful impressionist style. Never too much green. More inspiration. Cheers Dad!



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The amazing number boy

My older son, the one I affectionately call Big Bubba, loves numbers. Well, maybe he would disagree with that statement, but he is drawn to them and what he can do with them.
His favorite kind of numbers are statistics. Specifically, basketball stats.
When he was 9 he got interested in NBA. Not so much watching the games, although he did like that too, but he loved the numbers produced by the games. He would sit for hours and compute average points, assists and rebounds per game. He would create fantasy teams and have them "play" each other. Of course all this information was hand written in neat organized sections on lined paper. He had stacks and stacks of these papers. For Christmas we got him a book that had all the stats for every NBA player for an entire season. He used that book so much it fell apart. I had to 3 hole punch it and put it in a binder.

Today, at 17, 6'3" (and growing), he is a walking basketball encyclopedia. He could be one of those sports commentators and fit right in. Each morning I see him checking the stats online. It's like his morning coffee. Gotta have it first thing or the day just doesn't get off to a good start!
Recently, we had the privilege of attending an NBA game. I wanted to sit next to my bubba because he knows what's going on and can give me the background on all the players. Plus, I got to watch him in a state of pure joy. He was watching a live game and seeing the action that produces those numbers he loves so dearly. I think I watched him as much as I watched the game. He is quite entertaining.

The Big Bubba is in his element when he is immersed in basketball stats. It's his passion, his joy and possibly his future.
When he was younger and would spend hours working on stats, time was nothing. He had no idea so much time had passed. He was lost in his work. Adult friends would marvel at his interest and the free time he committed to it. To us it was "normal". That's what he loves to do, so he does it, a lot.
In his book The Element, Ken Robinson talks about being in this state of flow, or being "in the zone", He says:
"You begin to do something you love and the world slips away. Hours pass, and it feels like minutes. During this time you have been "in the zone." Those who have embraced the Element find themselves in this place regularly. This is not to suggest that they find every experience of doing the thing they love blissful, but they regularly have optimal experiences while doing these things, and they know they will again."
Oh, how I want that for my son!

His "team" is the Nicks - note the team colors on his braces :)


Monday, February 18, 2013

School holiday? No way Jose!

Today is a school holiday. The beep of my phone reminded me at 8:15. Everyone is home. But don't tell the sizzler. He doesn't know and I don't want him to know because he can't have the day off of school.
Unfair! Mean!
You might be thinking those things but I know that if the sizzler gets too many days off (like more than two on the weekend) it so exponentially more difficult on the first day back in school. I know. I have lived it and lived to tell you that it is not worth the extra day off.
Mondays are hard enough. Getting back on track after a free wheelin weekend is hard for everyone, but extra hard for sizzlers. They get all comfy in their freedom. They don't want regimen and routine. But they need it. Their lives (and mine) depend on it.
So today I only had 3 things on his list of must do's. Reading, math and a wee bit of writing. That's it! Simple!
Well, not quite. Reading went fine. He is enjoying a good cuddle up with all of Oliver Jeffers picture books. Love. And sometimes he reads like this

But that's ok, he's reading!
Math also went swimmingly. Life of Fred (his math program) is a gift from God. It uses story to engage the sizzler. He loves story. There's a guy named Fred and he is the main character. In his daily adventures Fred encounters math, lots of math. New concepts are just part of Fred's life. Time, money, adding things, even geometry (because your elbow can make a right angle) are learned without the sizzler even knowing it. If I were to give him a page of math problems he would have a seizure. Really. I've seen it. So I have to fool him into doing math. It's not math, it's Life of Fred! Works every time.
Now writing is a different story. The sizzler thinks he can't write. He can, you see, but he doesn't like to. He loathes it. He fights and squirms. He does everything he can think of to avoid writing.
Today we learned about the use of "an" before a word that starts with a vowel. No problem. Now write these 3 sentences. It took an hour (ooh, there's an exception to that grammar rule I just taught him!). That's ONE hour. It was painful for him and for me. Now, he spent most of that time not writing. The actual writing process was maybe 5-10 minutes. The rest of the time was the battle. Wears. Me. Out.
Now if I had let him take the day off it would be a much bigger battle tomorrow. Good thing I know better! Well, I guess we'll have to see about that tomorrow.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Picture book maker

Oliver Jeffers is amazing! He is recent creative influence in the sizzler's life. I could just hug him for inspiring my boy.

What was the inspiration you ask? Watch this



We watched this video a couple of times. We laughed. We marveled. We thought could we be picture book makers. That is pure creative inspiration flowing. You don't pass that up. You jump in your boat and ride that river!

Hmmm, how should we do it? Do you want to draw the pictures and I will type the words? I ask the sizzler.

Then I wondered if there was a cool app for making books. He loves working with the iPad, let's look.

Well what do you know! I found an app called Book Creator. Perfect!

Now for a story idea. One of his latest obsessions is the Lego ghost train, so I suggested we make a story about the adventures of the ghost train. He loved the idea. We make a good team!

So then I guided him through the process of creating a story board, getting him to think through the plot. Then the fun part started. We went outside and set up the scenes and he took pictures with the iPad. We even set a fire on the tracks!

When he had all the photos we went inside and learned how to put the photos into his book. I told him I would type the words for his story as he hasn't learned to keyboard, yet. But Book Creator has this fabulous feature where you can put a sound button on the page. Once we discovered this he could do the whole thing on his own. He would decide what to say and then record himself reading the story. He even included fun theme music. It's quite hilarious!

He was so involved in this project. He couldn't get enough. He decided to make a second story. His new author pride was oozing. He was a picture book maker. Yay!

When his friend D "read" the ghost train story he loved it and he couldn't wait to get started on his own book. The inspiration continues.

So, thank you Oliver Jeffers for inspiring my son to be a book maker too!



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let's Google it!

I find it quite amusing that my son uses the word "google" as a verb. "Let's Google it!" , "Just Google it mom" or the basic "google it" are common phrases at Appleby farm school.

In my day it was look it up in the encyclopedia. And I did. Lots. Because when I wanted to know something I knew that the answer was in the World Book. You can get lost in those encyclopedias. One minute you're looking for locomotive and next thing you know you're reading about locusts because it's all right there and so tempting (especially when you see the picture of a swarm of locusts, eew!)
I hear the request "google it" at least once a day if not more. The sizzler has learned if he wants to know something we go to the World Wide Web to find out.
But beware, one can lost out there in cyber space too.
So today it was all about trains, again. He's not tired of them yet so we keep chugging down that "track".
Our ES was visiting today (the teacher who checks in with us to make sure we are actually doing school and not just goofing off) and she wanted to play the Joining of the Rails game with him. This is a file folder game we made that connects to the story of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Now what she didn't know was that the sizzler is quite good at this game. Poor woman. She was humbled by an 8 year old that knew more about this part of American History than she did. I can totally relate.
The sizzler decides to have mercy and help the ES with the questions she doesn't know (show her what you know son!) and she almost wins the game. He beams. She congratulates him. They move on.
Fast forward to the afternoon when all our "must dos" are done. He loves this time because now he can do anything he wants. Well, almost anything.
So, what does he want to do? Make a game like the one he's been playing but it will be based on the Mountain Quarries Railroad that operated near us a long time ago. Brilliant idea! How can I help?
Now, as a homeschooling mama of a sizzler these are golden moments. I want to dance and sing when he has a cool, awesome, even academic project he wants to do. Forget anything else I had to do this afternoon. This is full steam ahead baby!
So, I start with some questions. What will the game look like? How will it work? Do you want to have questions like the other game? Where will you start on the game board? Where will you end up? You get the idea.
Well, we need to start at the limestone crusher and end up at....... Hmmmm, where did they end up?
"Let's Google it!"
I love this part. Researching information and ideas is a hobby for me. My adrenaline is pumping now!
It turns out the railroad ends at Flint Station in Auburn, but we can't find any photos of it. No problem says the sizzler, I'll just draw that part.
Now he is in full fledged board game designing mode. He gets out a Thomas board game to examine it's layout. He gets ideas. He is ready to create the Mountain Quarries Railroad game! Woo hoooo!

Now one thing about sizzlers is they get so excited about what they are doing and they tend to rush things. It's my job to slow that engine down and get him to think about his decisions first, particularly when they involve glue. Luckily for me, he was willing to listen to mama's suggestions today.

Ta da! The track is finished. Now it's time for the details.

Now this makes my mama heart go pitter pat. He is writing. Because he wants to. Because he needs to put the name of the game on the board. There was no bribing or threatening. He wrote. Yay!
We worked together to finish up the game. We used our Google powers again and found interesting facts and turned them into questions for the game. And he let me make water for the river. He's nice that way.
Then we played the game. He won. Of course. All thanks to Google.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Got inspiration?

What is inspiration?
It is:
a : a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation
b : the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
c : the act of influencing or suggesting opinions

But, what does it look like? Where does it come from?

A couple of weeks back I decided to have a fun art day with my sizzler. We had been working hard all week and it was Friday. Perfect idea! Plus, we had just received some new art supplies and a book called Art Lab.
I get so excited when we get new "stuff". It's like instant inspiration. Right?
So, I cleared the dining table and got it all set up for an awesome art session. I looked through the book for a cool idea to try out. The watercolor with salt idea looked fun and easy.
Ok, we're all set. Well, at least I was.
So I called the sizzler in to paint with me. I got all enthusiastic and jumped right in. See how fun this is? He is not convinced. He wants to know where the "real paint" is. Hmmmm, he's not buying what I'm selling here. I kept painting and hummed a happy tune. Then, he took the bait. He picked up the brush, dipped it in the water and grabbed some paint. He dragged the brush across the paper and was instantly unhappy. The paint was not doing what he wanted. It is stupid. It isn't real paint and he doesn't want any part of this art lab. Humph!
Why isn't he inspired? Look at these cool supplies! And this great book with tons of inspiring artists and awesome projects.
He isn't inspired because these things are not speaking to him. He doesn't care about the art I want to do. This is not his idea of fun. He has an idea of making a zombie vampire (what is it with the fascination with zombies?). OK. What do you need to create this zombie vampire?
Real paint!
Oh, that's right. So I pushed aside the watercolors and got out the acrylics. Now he'll be inspired!
He picked up his pencil and began to draw the zombie guy. It wasn't right. Erase. Frustration was bubbling up. I tried to encourage him to not worry about mistakes but to just keep creating. He couldn't. He was hyper focused on what was wrong with his picture.
How about trying some paint? He agreed. He dabbed the brush in and..........
It didn't look right. He was unhappy. He wanted to quit. Me too.
But I didn't. Well, at least not with my own creation. I gave up on trying to get him to do art, for now.
So I continued to create. After all, I was feeling inspired!

A little while later he was curious about what mom was making. Oh, some sort of collage thingy. I don't know yet.
What's a collage? he asks. I explained that it's a mixture of different things in a piece of art. It could have some paint, some drawing, some images that you cut out, whatever you want, really.
His interest is piqued. Maybe he could do this. I see that he was looking inspired so I moved in with my bag of ideas. He'd been looking at pictures of Lego monster fighters in his magazine (including the zombie vampire guy). So I suggested that he draw a cool action scene and cut the guys out and put them in the scene.
Now I'd gotten him! Hook, line and sinker! He wanted to do this. He grabbed his pencil and got to work. He was motivated now baby! He was in his element - drawing - with pencil. Heaven! (Grin)
The sizzler cranked out the background and put the guys in and proceeded to tell me the whole action packed story.
He was happy.
So was mama.
So, I need to remember to not push my inspirations on him. We are inspired by different things.

Inspires him to create this

I remember now.
What inspires you?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wing dinger days

Some days are wing dingers when you're homeschooling a sizzler
Before I go on I must give credit to Carol Barnier for the term "sizzler". She came up with this title for her son after he spit on a hot lightbulb and it exploded. When she asked him why he spit on the lightbulb he replied "I like the sizzle". Oh can I relate!
Carol decided to homeschool this child with ADHD. She wrote some excellent books about homeschooling these amazing kids. My favorite is "How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and on to Learning". In her books you will find ideas that work with these kiddos. They learn differently. They need to move. Many of them are visual spatial learners. My sizzler loves to do math her way. Tossing the bean bag back and forth or jumping on his mini trampoline while reciting his math facts are top picks for him!
Carol also has an awesome website called Sizzle Bop. I have referred to it many a time. She reminds me to enjoy this child and keep a sense of humor. To remember that these kids are extra special and we need to handle them in positive, creative ways. To not expect them to be "normal", whatever that is.

Some days it's hard to enjoy the sizzle. Like when mama's tired or low on patience and admiration for the Darlin'. Yesterday was one of those days.
Usually I can tell from the get go if it's going to be one of those days. Not This time. He was happily playing with Legos when I came out to greet him. But then he didn't want to eat breakfast. Or get dressed. Then he started bouncing off the walls, literally. Along with that there is this verbal nonsense that comes spewing forth with uncontrollable force. Oh dear, fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen we're in for a bumpy ride. It's like trying to control a tornado or a vapor. It just keeps slipping through your fingers. Now, I'm an experienced mom and classroom teacher, but they don't train teachers to control elusive things like vapors!
The scary thing is they know when you can't control them and it adds more fuel to the fire. At that point I have to go make a cup of tea or visit grandma next door or schedule a retreat at a day spa. But when he comes to give me a "huggie" (a run and grab you very tight bear hug), I soften and see the wonderfulness in my boy again.
Now, wing dinger days are not all horrible. There was a bright spot when it was time to give our pet rats a bath. Oh how he loves the rattie tatties! He can be so sweet with the little critters. He was the dryer after I bathed them.
He did, eventually, read his book, do his math and work on his train lapbook. But each one of those took a lot of convincing, cajoling and general frustration (for both of us!)
I guess he was not in his element today.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Freedom to learn

One of the best things about homeschooling is the freedom to learn in the real world anytime we feel inclined.
So, the sizzler has been learning about trains. He especially likes the old steam trains. He first became interested in the "iron horses" after finding a book called "Death of the Iron Horse" by Paul Goble. His new interests are often sparked by books. He studied the picture of the steam locomotive. He drew pictures of it. He thought about it. Why does he like them so much? He says he likes the way they look. Now, you must know that he tends to like "old" things. Model T's, phonographs and old typewriters are some of his favorite things. He is drawn to the style of things past. I do love this about him. When we visit museums, the old timers who are docents are taken with his interest in things from their era.

Back to trains. Today we went to the train museum in Sacramento. What a gem! The sizzler and his friend D had a blast. There were many steam locomotives (with the balloon smoke stack) for my son to drool over. He taught D and I about the sand dome. In case you don't know it's on top of the locomotive and drops sand down tubes onto the tracks in icy conditions. This helps the driving wheels to grip the track. Huh! Never knew that! He had all sorts of encyclopedic knowledge that he shared with us. We also got to go inside vintage rail cars. The mail car, sleeper and dining cars were a trip back in time. Of course in each car there is a volunteer train history buff. When they see two young ones that are interested boy do they go to town sharing pearls of wisdom. The sizzler will usually share some of his too. The old timers get so tickled when he does that. They sort of look at me like "how does he know this?" He just does.



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In his element

Yesterday I started reading Ken Robinson's book " The Element". Sir Ken is an entertaining yet spot on writer. His book profiles several successful folks who did not do well in school. In fact, they were terrible in school and couldn't wait to get out. It seems that they were not valued, or at least the way they were "smart" was not acknowledged or nurtured. He's talking about the artists, musicians, dancers and gymnasts of the world who needed someone to recognize their talents and encourage them on their path.
Schools were set up during the time of the industrial revoltion and designed to create workers for factories. Ken says this is not the case anymore and I couldn't agree more. Ken also says schools kill creativity. Oh boy, that's a big can of worms.
Well, I do have some experience here. I have been a public school teacher and have been guilty of killing creativity. You see, one cannot just allow 24 kids to each explore their own creative ideas. Or can you? I couldn't find a way in the classroom, but I have found a way at home.
My life has done a 180. A few years ago I had a dream to design a school for my son. I got to start that school and even teach in that school. Life was good. But then, it slowly became appparent that this school wasn't working for my child. He wasn't interested in the daily menu at school. He thought it was boring. "I need excitement and adventure," he would tell his teacher (me at the time ;)
"Oh brother!" I thought, life isn't always like that. But then it go so bad I had no other choice but to take leave from my teaching position and bring the little thrill seeker home. I admit that it was hard. I had built this school for him. I had put my heart and soul into it for 3 years. But it wasn't working. We were both miserable.
We've been home for 4 months and I am learning to listen to the child. I still "make" him read, write and do math, but mostly we learn about things that interest him and I let him enjoy the things he loves. One of the ways he expresses himself is through drawing. He will only draw in pencil, no color, and please don't ask him to use watercolor (apparently it's not real paint).
So this morning he was in his element. We have been learning about trains (his request) and he wanted to draw a full length train on butcher paper. Alrighty then! He got right to work before breakfast, wearing his skivvies and one sock. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and got right to work. I never had to ask him to stay on task or cajole him into working. Why? He was in his element. This is his work and he feels totally at home doing it. As he was working he kept calling me over to show me details. "This is the tender, it holds extra coal and water for the steam engine" or "this is the dining car, tanker carrying milk, passenger car, etc". The point is that he was telling me all he knew about trains while in his element. I don't think any standardized test could do that!
I am grateful I can be there to encourage him in his creativity.