Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer Camp Disaster

Note: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. Just getting around to posting it. Feel free to skip reading it altogether as it is a) old news and b) mostly me whining about stuff.

What a week it's been! I've made a mistake back in April and this was the day (or rather the week) of reckoning. No, I don't mean taxes, although we are still waiting on our refund from the IRS and looks like we might not even get it. What I'm talking about is the summer camp.

When we got back from NY in March, I must'd lost my mind with all the moving, settling back into our routines and taking care of it all while Chris was on crutches. How else can I explain the decision to sign M for a day camp?!

It was a Park and Rec Dept camp, so not terribly expensive. It was only for 1 week, 3 hours each morning. The biggest selling point for me was the name of the camp, Muddy Buddy. I guess after a long-long snowy winter being stuck in a small-small house, an idea of my son crawling through mud while hunting for critters had a special appeal to me. Plus one of his little friends was going to be in that camp as well.

Everything was just peachy on Monday. I dropped M off with a promise to wait for him by the door to the camp room, in a small waiting area with semi-comfortable chairs. Which I did except for a quick dash home to re-charge my cell phone and do some work.

At 12pm sharp the doors of the camp room opened and M walked out, beaming and chatting non-stop about how awesome this camp thing was. He showed me the art work (!!!) he did, told me about leaves he collected, about blocks and play dough he played with and puzzles (!!!) and how he had 4 teachers who were just the best and who were helping him to tie shoes and cut sticky tape. He declared that he wanted to go to the camp every single day.

Then on Tuesday he refused to go into the camp room. Might have been my mistake. I told him that instead of waiting for him in the waiting area the whole time I would first need to run to the shop to get the car inspected.

Wednesday was another successful day at the camp. I took a book with me that I've been meaning to read for the last few months and actually enjoyed the three hours of not having to do anything. M enjoyed his time at the camp as well, laughing, playing and going on a hunt for fire-flies (although he didn't catch any).

On Thursday I drove him to the camp full of expectations for another relaxing morning. Except M absolutely refused to even walk into the building! No amount of reasoning, promises of rewards or threats of punishment made any difference. He would have none of it, the camp that is. Turns out, it was boring, the amazing teachers made him do horrible things, like painting a flower pot, and unless I was willing to sit inside the camp room and go on the outdoor adventures with him, he would not go to the camp at all. Grrr, I'm ashamed to admit, but things got pretty ugly at this point (although, to my credit, there was no butt-wooping).

On Thursday night after a long day of no desserts, no movies/cartoons, and no pool, M said that he wants to have a good day on Friday, but he wouldn't go to the camp anyway. So that was the end of our summer camp.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Maker Faire NC 2011

It happened, it finally happened! Something I've been waiting for since last year - the Maker Faire NC! Ok, so what it was just a 1-day mini-Faire. It was still absolutely amazing. Besides, now I know what to prepare for when we go to the big HUMONGOUS Faire in NY in September.

There was so much going on at the Faire that it's hard now to write about it in a coherent way. I tried taking pictures, but lots of times it just didn't happen because I was either busy having fun or there were just too many people around hustling and bustling.

To M's great delight there were LOTS and LOTS of robots. In fact, the very first thing that we did was to watch robots play hockey (M is the blond shortstop in the middle of the row of spectators). Actually, Chris and M watched and I took an opportunity to learn a bit about tatting (something I overheard the other day on NPR).

Then we walked around a bit and M got to try a sewing machine. He said he liked it, but at that point he wasn't much at ease with the whole experience, so I'm not sure if he really did or not.

Fairs and festivals like this are pretty hard for M to get through. He gets overloaded with all the sights, sounds and movements of hundreds of people. So he withdraws, shoulders raised and voice very-very quiet until he finds something so interesting that he gets fully absorbed in the process, forgetting about the discomfort and the overwhelm.

This time around M started to warm up weave a rope and keep it too! He was so happy and proud and made sure to impress it on us that he was going to use the rope in all sorts of construction projects.

But what truly changed the whole Faire experience for him was the Thinker Linkers. He stayed there for a while, building with the linking boards.

It was really a very cool thing. He still has some fine motor problems and playing with Legos (even Duplos) can be a very frustrating experience. Smaller or smooth surfaced blocks present a different problem as he has a hard time lining them up just right to make the entire structure stable. So I was a bit apprehensive. But never fear! M did need just a bit of help at first, but once he really got into it, he was doing just fine.

And he stayed with the Thinker Linkers for quite a while, at least half an hour if not longer. Eventually another, older, boy joined him and then the boy's dad. In the end, they built a "superstructure" as M referred to it. And then the rope came out and M tried to weave it through the structure and make it do something that only he knew.

Other notable finds included a real Star Wars light saber, a display of rockets (yep, M is still heavily into rockets and a trip to a hobby store isn't too far in the future) and a giant marble run.

If I had to narrow my list of Maker Faire "Wow"s to just 3, these would be Thinker Linkers ('cause M did so amazingly well with them), a huge marble run ('cause I love marble runs and Rube Goldberg machines and dream of one day creating a giant one to go all around M's room and then downstairs into the kitchen) and a Feltronics board ('cause ever since our experiment with Squishy Circuits I've been looking for similar preschooler-friendly ideas).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer is So Crazy

I thought that once summer is here we were going to be sort of bored, looking for things to do and friends to hang out with. After all, many home schoolers we know follow the traditional school year. For example, our preschool co-op is over and done with 'til September and so it the Math Trek. Rrrrright......

Over the last couple of weeks we've been very-very-very busy with the capital "B", dashing from one thing to the next and being late just about everywhere we'd go. Plus we're not exactly taking a whole summer off either. We study a bit each day, mostly through reading books and talking about stuff. But also I've been teaching M to read. He knows most letters and reads very short words. Anything longer than 4 letters puts him off. But I think it's just a matter of practice.
So we practice, although not as much as I'd like. This is us playing the "5 marshmallows" reading game. It's simple - I write 5 syllables on paper cups, turn the cups upside down and hide a mini-marshmallow under one of the cups. When M opens his eyes, I tell him "The marshmallow is under... "му" (for example). Now he has to find the right cup by reading all the syllables. No guessing! If he gets it wrong, I get the marshmallow.
For this game he likes assembling all his little toys and "sharing" the hard-won marshmallows with them, giving each one a bite to eat. So it takes us a while to get through all five marshmallows. But it's fun and it works.
He's still heavily into putting together various contraptions. The new twist is he might want to sketch it out first. So he takes a sheet of paper and a red marker (gotta be the red one!) and carefully draws two vertical lines for the body, a jumble of wires in between (some squiggly lines), a few gears (small circles), and caps it all off with a head - an egg-shape with no facial features.
This is M assembling a refueling station for his new Star Wars toy (thanks, Grandpa!). The droid starfighter took forever to fuel up 'cause it needed "three million and fourteen gallons" of fuel. No matter since Darth Vader and the minions were patiently waiting.
Finally, this is M in the Contraption Room at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. It's an awesome room that is full of spare parts to build the basic simple machines and put them together into Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. I'm in love with this room! In fact, I want to scale it down just a little bit and re-create here, at home. Maybe next school year.

M didn't like it at first 'cause it wasn't a robot-making room. But after some sulking and whining, he said, resignedly, "ok, so then let's build some machine" and we started. He was particularly fascinated with pulleys. In fact, that's all he wanted to do for almost 40 minutes - explore pulleys. So we put a little contraption together. Then I started adding to it - a ramp here, a lever there for the plastic ball to negotiate. I thought it'd be interesting to M, but he was way too absorbed with the pulleys and hardly paid attention to my creations.

We've also been going to pools. Yes, the real ones! M finally got into a big pool and now it's a challenge to get him out of it when it's time to go home. Plus I got him a floating vest and we usually borrow inflatable arm bands from a new friend, Yura. Wearing all that M proudly negotiates water all by himself. Now he's actually asking me for swimming lessons! Yay!!!! No pictures of this part 'cause I'm in the water with M and Chris hasn't had a chance to come with us yet.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Grandparents Visit

Finally, my parents found time in their busy schedules to visit. Yeah, I'm complaining! Mostly because they promised to be here for 4 days, but then changed everything to just 2 and a half days. So I feel that I'm totally within my rights here to kvetch loudly.

I dunno about your folks, but when my 'rents are in town, they tend to be very busy along the gender lines. My mom takes over the kitchen and the garden. My dad takes over the yard and the couch. This, by the way, is not a complaint, but a sincere appreciation.

I mean, c'mon, here are two senior citizens (at least by Kohl's standards) who first barrel down I-95 (Dad's always behind the wheel and he tends to interpret "95" as the speed limit), then unload a ton of goodies (mostly food stuff, but this time also a mattress and a couple of very heavy IKEA bookcases). Then they spend 1-2-3 days working before climbing back into the car for a return trip. But not until they write us a check (I s'pose for time well-spent).

Anyway, this time around Mom brought lotsa plants for the garden, mostly herbs. So we planted those. And Dad spent the morning hours (when it wasn't too hot) cutting down the bushes 'cause that's where we want to put our expanded veggie garden and a fruit "orchard" next year.

We also made shashliki, a summer-time Russian tradition. As most other Russian dishes, it's extremely labor-intensive. This is no burger-flipping! This takes time, skill and patience - from marinating the meat (no store-bought marinade either) to building a fire, to actual roasting.

Consequently, no drinking happens while the process is, well, in process. Here you see my hubby is taking a beer break while chatting with his favorite mother-in-law. And his favorite father-in-law is patiently explaining the finer points of the roasting process to M. M loves this and is all ears. Cooking on the open fire is quite possibly his biggest love (after Star Wars that is).

While M is too little to rotate the skewers, he's contributing to the work process by using some fresh herbs to sprinkl the meat with some white wine (yeah, I know, this sounds weird - white wine with lamb, but it does work).

Another thing we did was picking blueberries with Grandma. We went to Smith's Nursery on a very hot day (after helping Grandpa with cutting down the bushes). Luckily, they loaned us a little wagon for M (it's a bit of a hike to the blueberry field although of course if you want to, you can drive there as well, but where's the fun in that?!)

Archemedes said "Give me a lever long enough and I'll move the world". To which I say "Let my parents visit long enough and I'll finish all my unfinished projects" (which, if you were to take a peek at my to-do list, is way more impressive of a feat than moving the world. For real.)

The End of School Year Post

Wait, what am I talking about here? Aren't we homeschooling? Not only that, but we don't really have a schedule so far (well, we're still pre-K and I don't think a formal curriculum or schedule is appropriate or needed at this point).

But it just so happened that our homeschool pre-school co-op wrapped up for the school year and we went to Lake Wheeler for the year-end party. It was really just a big playdate with some snacks. No learning activity was done this time and no books were read. Just lots and lots of free play. Beats any graduation party if you ask me.

That same week we also attended a Homeschoolers Showcase. It's an annual event that marks the end of school year for older homeschoolers. This was our first year attending (as visitors). It was so much fun that I'm considering claiming a table and preparing a presentation for the 2012 Showcase.

M and Chris got to attend as well. Finally Chris met other HS families and met some of M's friends from the preschool co-op (and their parents). He also got to see what older HS kids get to work on and accomplish (again, for now the only record we're keeping is this blog and a [small] stack of art work; oh, and all the junk Star Wars and junk Space Exploration toys we've been making).

M also loved the showcase. First, there was not one, but two REAL ROBOTS there, made by kids from the robotics co-op. M really liked the little robot that could pick up pipes and load them in the box. M kept "feeding" him all the pipes and admiring the 'bot. It's been over a week now and M still asks me when we're going to make our own robot just like that one, except with eyes.

Inspired by robots, M spent almost an hour by the huge LEGO table piecing together something or other. It is very hard work for him since he has such hard time controlling the tiny LEGO pieces. But he kept at it for a long time!

Finally, here are a couple of pictures from the Memorial Day weekend. Our good friends invited us over for some grill-and-beer action. There were other kids there - 5 more boys. So imagine all the fun they were having! After spending quite a lot of time slipping and sliding across the wet tarp (tearing up the lawn in the process), M and a few others settled down for an experiment. They were trying to fill up plastic bags with water from the sprinkler. Amazingly, this simple activity kept them busy for about 40 minutes or so!