Thursday, December 26, 2013

Celebration and Relaxation

We are continuing to enjoy our break from schooling for the holidays. Some time in the next few days, I know I am going to need to work out some plans for the new year. But for now, I'm just trying to relax.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Exploring Creative Outlets

mountain fortress
EM has just completed his fourth class at our local YMCA Art Center. He usually wants to take the pottery classes, but this month there were not enough students for that class and instead he ended up in an abstract expression class. He wasn't sure if he would like it, but after the first class, he was sold.

He was allowed to work with some tools I tend to shy away from at home, things like hot glue guns and sharp knives. 

EM is a people-pleaser, so he is more inclined to work hard just to make an instructor happy, where JT never worries about whether anyone approves of his behavior or work. These opposite personality traits generally result in EM doing more organized events and JT sticking with independent projects. Remember the piano lesson difficulties?

EM's pottery instructor is great with kids. He has all the patience in the world. EM is always excited to go to his classes. After the last session ended he gave a small piece, a cat, to the teacher because he knew he liked cats. It's nice to see my kids finding adults that they can look up to as mentors. One of the things that can be lacking in a homeschooling child's life is the opportunity to find that one teacher who fills the role of mentor.

The house that EM built.
I'm not saying that I think a child can't find a mentor if they aren't seeing teachers every day. I believe mentors can be found in many places, not just schools. I have worked to place my boys in situations that allow them to participate in activities where multiple age groups are involved so they can see people that have already succeeded in something they are starting to explore. JT's drum lessons and EM's art lessons are just two of those opportunities. Upward basketball, scouts, and church functions have been other places we have looked for those relationships.

future mobile
I know that even though my children have looked at me and their dad as their prime role models for years, it is important to expand their vision to those outside of our family. My goals for life may not match what the boys see as important. How will they know that unless I allow them to find other inspiration? It will only be through seeing how others deal with challenges in life that they will be able to make well thought out goals for their own futures.

 As always, I try to remind myself that as a parent, I'm trying to work myself out of a job. My primary role is to get these boys ready to handle life on their own when they leave home. They will have a better chance at success if they have many mentors to give them advice when they encounter difficulties along that path to success.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Garage Chemistry

A month ago a package arrived at our home from Home Science Tools. The  box had a few warning labels on the side. I sat down and studied the instructions for the various contents. I spent extra time reading the directions for the alcohol burner to avoid any potential disasters. Then I put off actually using these new items because I didn't feel like I was ready to dive into full-blown chemistry. This week we took the plunge.

Go ahead, try to pull those off
Our first goal was to study the difference between a physical change and a chemical change. We combined a mixture of 3 parts sulfur to 5 parts iron filings. When these two items are combined into a mixture, it is easy to separate them into their individual components by passing a magnet over the mixture. Note to self: Next time do not use favorite magnet to do this. (I can't believe I actually have a 'favorite' magnet.)

Next we placed our mixture into a metal lid and placed it over the alcohol
professional lab equipment
burner. The lid got incredibly hot very quickly! Good thing I brought my tongs out from the kitchen, right? The reason we decided to set up our little lab in the garage was to avoid fumes in the house. We could open the big doors and let the air flow through. About the time the mixture started to smoke I said to the boys, "I guess it might have been a good idea to bring the fire extinguisher out here." Maybe next time.

Now things really started getting exciting. EM said, "That stinks!" and promptly ran out of the garage. JT stuck around to see what would happen. A few moments after the flames died down and the newly formed compound started to cool, we removed it from the burner and let it reach a safe temperature. Notice we used a piece of slate under the burner. The directions said to use a non-combustible surface. I looked all around the house for something I could put on the table that I wouldn't mind ruining and found nothing. When we got outside, I saw the pile of slate I have for my garden. Perfect solution.

new compound
Our new compound, iron sulfide, had the magnetic properties of the original iron filings, but could no longer be separated from the sulfur. Even when we crushed up a bit and looked at it under the microscope, we could not see the separate iron particles. It was now one new compound instead of two. Energy was given out when new bonds formed. The flames were a pretty good indication of that.  A perfect example of a chemical change.

Cleaning up was fairly easy. JT wanted to keep the iron sulfide, in case we ever need it, so we put it in a small labeled storage container. The excess alcohol was returned to its original container and the tongs were thoroughly scrubbed.

Overall, the experiment went very well. No one was burned. No one succumbed to toxic fumes. Everyone wore their safety goggles. And we all learned something about chemistry.

I just hope the neighbors don't start wondering what we are doing with a chemistry lab set up in our garage...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pizza Day

call me

A local homeschooling mom arranged for our MeetUp group to have a tour at Papa John's. I was on the fence about going for a few reasons. Our recent conversion to mostly organic foods makes most restaurant food off-limits, EM doesn't really like pizza anyway, and the tour started at 10am. In the morning. I do not like activities that start in the morning. That is MY time for lounging around the house and getting a slow start to the day. But I decided I was being silly and made everyone get up and go make pizza.

veggie toppings
Our group consisted of 17 kids and 6 adults. When we arrived, EM realized one of the adults was his Kindergarten teacher. She was there with her grandsons who homeschool. EM had a chance to catch up and tell her how he's doing. One of the grandsons had been in his class for Kindergarten, so it was nice for him to have that reconnection. We had a short tour of the store, learned how the pizza ordering process works, and then the real fun began. Each child got to make their own pizza. JT chose mostly veggie toppings, EM tried some bacon.

pizza goes in this side
The kids all managed to line up, despite jokes I've heard about homeschoolers who don't know how to do that. Everyone was quiet and respectful while the manager explained the process. The kids chatted a bit with each other while they waited their turns to make their lunch. Then everyone sat down at the tables to enjoy the fruit of their labors. Socialization success!

Sometimes I find myself avoiding the local homeschooling activities. It's not necessarily that I don't want to get together with the other families, it's just that I have so many things I want to do and I can't do everything and stay sane. I have to say no fairly often or we'd be running ragged all the time. Some people like that frantic pace in their lives. I'm not one of them. The boys aren't really into that kind of lifestyle either. Maybe when they are older, but I don't really see it happening. We are content to live at a slower pace.

finished pizza comes out here
I think as parents in America we are made to feel inferior if our kids aren't running from one activity to the next all day long. Being out of the school system helps avoid that a little bit because we don't get fliers announcing sports try-outs and other activities sent home in backpacks. But the temptation is still there. When friends ask what sports the boys participate in and I say, "JT is no longer doing any sport and EM will do Upward basketball this year," it might sound like nothing compared to the kid who plays every sport offered through the school and participates in every other league out there. I think it's enough of a sport to send the kids running around the backyard, jumping into the giant pile of leaves they made, or soon, sledding down and hiking back up the hill.

We are perfectly happy with our backyard...

 and an occasional pizza party.