Saturday, March 31, 2012

Get Ready for a New Museum

A new museum will be opening in Raleigh some time in April. I don't mean the much-anticipated Nature Research Center extension of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (although that's going to be way awesome 24-hour celebration on April 20th). I'm talking about a Museum of Garbage Trucks and it's going to open sometime next week (I guess) right in our house.

M's got this idea from somewhere that he wanted to open a museum. And since garbage and garbage trucks are his new passion, that's what the museum is all about. Now, unfortunately, it is not going to be one of those fancy interactive exhibits. When I explained to M the meaning of the word "interactive", he nixed the idea of having hordes of visitors playing with his garbage trucks.

These past few days he's been busy taking tons of pictures of his garbage truck collection, of various pieces of garbage, of garbage bins (real and toy ones), etc. He's also been working (with some help from me) on a giant poster that shows garbage trucks happily collecting trash and bringing it to a landfill. The poster is so big that we are now having hard time figuring out where to hang it (since all the available walls already have something or other on them, like planet stickers).
We conducted an experiment to figure out how much trash we generate in a day. Turns out, that we are pretty average, but since most of our trash comes from kitchen scraps and most of those can be composted (which we do), we end up actually throwing out very little. 

He's been studying a picture from an old issue of Wired magazine that shows some kind of plasma-enhanced garbage melter. He's been talking almost non-stop about recycling and noticing the "recycling" sign everywhere he goes. 

Inspired by this YouTube video, he recently built a recycling facility and a SMART station out of building blocks. M even made a custom snowboard for me (what gave him the idea that I snowboard?) with the Waste Management symbol on it. Seriously!

Does it sound like a cool museum or what? Once it's open, I'll give you a virtual tour (unless you are in town and want to visit; the admission is free in keeping with Raleigh's other great museums).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Field Trip to Historic Oak View

We've been so lucky lately! Got another invite from the kindergarten co-op to join them on their field trip to the Historic Oak View County Park. And we even hitched a ride with Mrs. Erin and her boys. Totally freeloading here, let me tell ya!
Historic Oak View is a really amazing place, worth a visit any time of the year. We've been there before, just on our own. But turns out, they offer docent-led tours that cost $15 per group. There's no minimum group size requirement, so you can actually have yourself a private tour. And let me tell you, going through the plantation with a tour guide is very illuminating. Plus you get to see the main house!

M was happy to go because a) Oak View is one of his favorite places and b) Mrs. Erin has like the coolest playlist put together, including Star Wars theme song. Plus he gets to push a button that activates the sliding doors on her minivan. Not to mention he gets to go on a ride with his friends and chew gum!

But back to the Oak View tour. We started at the barn and kids got to try their hands at farm chores - milking a cow, collecting eggs, bringing hay for the horse and water for the pigs. Nope, they didn't get to shovel manure. They also got to pet Nubian goats.

We then went to the cotton field and got to pick cotton and on to another barn to try to clean cotton by hand and then with a hand-cranked gin. Also talked about how little children of the slaves, kids as young as 5, had to work in the fields all day long every day.

After a brief tour of the main house, kids got to try their hand at doing laundry the old-fashioned way and then whip butter in the colonial kitchen. This is M's favorite building on the entire plantation. So after the tour was over and we all had our picnic lunches, he asked to go back to the kitchen. He's absolutely fascinated with all those old utensils, tools, cast iron cookware and a huge fireplace.

Once again, I got out our good old "Colonial Cook" book. For now we don't read it, but instead just talk about the pictures and why something was done the way it was and how things are different now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Field Trip to Poe Center

I've always suspected that Raleigh has just about the highest concentration of all things awesome for kiddos out of any place I've been to. The field trip to the Poe Center for Health Education confirmed my belief. Ok, the name sounds boring. It's not even named after Edgar Allan Poe, but Alice Aycock Poe (seems like she was a nice lady, a governor's daughter, but that's that).

But don't let the rather boring name stop you from visiting this awesome center (although I do think you need an appointment and be a part of a group; luckily, we were invited by our friends at the local home school kindergarten co-op).

So first thing first, the kids had a lesson on proper nutrition - the My Plate diagram and all. It sounds boring, but it wasn't. They played a few interactive games and the whole session was mostly in Q&A format. The teacher asked questions and kids answered (and let me tell you, the 5-6 year olds know surprisingly a whole lot about proper nutrition, vitamins and food groups). M kept very quiet during the discussion, but volunteered himself for every single game activity. He was eventually chosen for a "Cafeteria" game. The object was to choose healthful foods in the cafeteria and bring a tray with a balanced meal to the lunch lady. M immediately picked up plastic ice cream because it was green and he said he thought it was healthy. He also picked a baked potato over french fries (just wishing it was so in real life), regular milk over chocolate milk (he's never had chocolate milk), an apple and a banana. No meat (and plastic pinto beans look very unappetizing). Then again, we eat hardly any meat at home.

And that was the game. After some more games and more questions (again, M kept very quiet), it was time for a super cool video called The Brain or something like that. It's shown on two smallish screens inside this big huge head. So when you walk inside (through the ears, of course), you are in a little theater, but it's made to look like the inside of a skull. Awesome! The movie is about what makes for healthy brains - food, rest, exercise, physical activity - and what harms the brain - drugs, cigarettes, alcohol. It also talks a bit about how brain works. So awesome!

There were lots of games and activities to try in the lobby, but by then we all rushed to the playground. It's a really great playground too. It has a maze for kids to run around in and lots of shady spots for parents. Also, all the slides and play equipment is made to look like some body part or other. For example, one of the slides is like a nose, lips and a tongue. There's a rib cage climbing wall, a "neurons" cargo net and lots and lots more cool things.

Finally, when we got home, M said that he wanted to play the Poe Center class. He patiently explained that I had to be the teacher and he would be all the kids. Then he told me that I should conduct the lesson just like the teacher at the center did. So I got out all our plastic food, drew a plate and started asking lots and lots of questions. And guess what? He remembered the correct answers to all of them! Not only did he listen to the teacher, he listened to all his friends as they were answering questions in the real class. He would include their answers into his play and would start with "Do you know that..." for all the friends' answers that were correct and "But some people think that..." for all the ones that were incorrect. Then he kept talking about brain and food for a few days. He still asks me from time to time "Is it good for my brain" about all different foods.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hooray for Ms Caitlin

If you don't know, Ms Caitlin is our wonderful physical therapist. M sees her every other week for an hour. Ms Caitlin always comes up with fun games and challenges for M, but even the most fun challenge still requires very hard work. Every time I'm there, observing, I'm reminded of how many of our gross motor skills we take for granted, for example, jumping on one foot or cross reaching hand to opposite foot or just going up and down stairs or jumping up and down. Half-way through his therapy appointments M is tired and needing a break.

But he is getting stronger and more agile. And with that comes newly found confidence to try things that look tough and scary and a bit dangerous and that he wouldn't try (even with my help) just a few months ago. Like climbing up a fallen tree to explore the upturned roots.

Or running downhill at full speed.

Or climbing up this tall climbing wall to get to the slide (instead of taking the nearby stairs).

Or walking on this fallen tree holding on to the tree branches that grow straight up like columns.

Walking around the ENTIRE millpond (1 mile) and then some and having enough energy left to run around exploring, looking for snakes, and climbing on old millstones.
Or climb on top of this cool dragon all by himself.

So HOORAY for Ms Caitlin!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Rest of NY Visit

Just quickly going through my pictures... so many of them... this is what we were busy with when in NY and when not visiting kids' museums.

So we helped Uncle Arkadiy to wash his motorcycle and, as a reward, got to sit on it and M got to rev it up too.
We went on a letter-boxing hunt in Nyack. We only discovered 2 out of 4 boxes, but it was lovely anyway because we found a) a cozy coffee shop and b) a beautiful library along the way.
 M built his own X-wing fighter out of kitchen chairs, blankets, unused remote controls and some odds and ends.
We got lucky and actually saw some snow this winter! Even though there was only about an inch of it and it melted almost right away, we got some snow fights and sledding done. Now M says that winter is his favorite season because of the snow.
Grandpa brought this amazing German shepherd home to pet sit for a few days. M absolutely fell in love with Milka. The first morning he saw her, he ran into our bedroom, woke me up and yelled "Mama, there's someone here. Her name is Dog and also German shepherd and also Milka!". Since the dog's name means "Darling" in Russian, M kept saying "This Milka is such a darling, just a little darling". Of course, this is a big dog. On this particular picture she looks enormous. But she is so super-sweet and very patient with M even though he was all over her (here he is covering her with a "blanket" so she would get cozy and warm and "like a little darling").
Here's a better picture. As you can see, the dog is not as humongous although definitely not petite either. We do miss her a lot. Hopefully next time we're in NY Grandpa gets to pet sit her again.
And then, almost before leaving for NC, M got sick. As he describes this experience now, he had "high temperature, higher than me, and hoarse voice and had to lay on the couch all day like Grandpa".

The Spring is... Over?

We got back to NC to some strange weather. After freezing NY temps basking in the NC sun with temps in upper 70s felt nice. Until it occurred to me that it's still March and with the weather being this hot, I can't even plant radishes. And what kind of spring is it without planting radishes?!

But we started our garden again this year. I promised myself not to plant too much stuff this year since with Chris gone, I have way too much stuff to take care of even without a garden. But I s'pose I'm taking after my Mom after all. Each year she promises to cut down on the number of tomato starts and instead grows more and more of them, nearing a hundred or so this year.

To be fair, I did plant a lot of flowers this year. Like one entire bed is going to be (hopefully) my little cutting garden.

And now it's been raining hard every night and every morning, but still sunny and hot by mid-afternoon. It really feels weird. There's some disconnect here between what I see (daffodils, tulips, blooming fruit trees) and what I feel (80 degrees, hello sandals and sleeveless tops). Not like I'm complaining. Although it sure would've been nice to have home-grown radishes.

BTW, yes, this is Bobba Fet in our yard. M felt that such gorgeous weather deserves a celebration and donned his favorite costume. He then spent 5 hours in the yard waiting for every garbage truck that goes by to stop by our yard and pick up trash. Thankfully, the drivers were very understanding and went as far as demonstrating how garbage trucks compact garbage (they usually compact at the end of our street and not by our house).

As an unexpected math consequence, M spent some time that same afternoon arranging his toy garbage trucks by size (hello, gradients) and counting them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Museums, Museums

Do you think we just set up a camp at the Brooklyn Children's Museum? Good guess, considering my total and inexcusable absence from this blog for like a whole month.

The truth is we left the museum, drove over to Brighton Beach for some Russian language children's books (thanks, International Toys!) and a parking ticket (thanks, the City of New York!) and got home. The next day (or a few days later, can't remember now, not like it matters much) we drove all the way to Connecticut to visit another kids' museum, this one in Norwalk.

Boy, oh boy, this museum, called Stepping Stones Museum, totally rocks! To begin with, they have a computer  game where you can mix your own "body sounds" music, complete with sounds of hiccups, giggles and yes, farts. M loved it! Although he loved a bike-riding skeleton even more. The idea is the kid sits on a bike and pedals and the skeleton that sits on the bike next to him also pedals. So you can see how your bones move when you ride a bike. Neat-o!

Then there was this one exhibit where you basically get to pretend-build a house. I thought M would be interested in laying down the piping or the electrical, but once he discovered a construction debris chute, he just stayed in that area.

But the most fun of all was the awesome Energy Lab. It's full of plastic balls and water running everywhere! If you don't want your child to get wet, don't go there. But then, that would be so unbelievably unfair. Also, when you're in the Energy Lab, do try to go through the "fossil fuel deposits" tunnel. I haven't seen too many parents try that, but it actually provides a really good explanation of where oil and coal and natural gas come from.

And then the next day (or a few days later) we went to the Mid-Hudson Valley Kids' Museum. We've been there a couple of years back and I liked it. This time wasn't as much fun. Well, it's a very small museum and it seems it's on a very tight budget. So nothing has changed since we went there last time except all the toys got older and more worn down (or out?) But kids don't seem to notice it, really. M loved playing with the plywood fire truck and it was difficult to get him out of the play submarine even though the robotic arm he was trying to work seemed not working too well.

But he ended up having the most fun in the little corner on the second floor with a Declaration of Independence theme. Interestingly, there was some information about Sybil Ludington, aka The Girl Paul Revere. She is not frequently mentioned, but M actually knew more about her than about Paul Revere since we listened to Judy Moody Declares Independence story several times while in NY. So he was happy to sit on Sybil's horse and on the drive back we talked about Sybil's ride (since we were driving approximately where she rode back in 1777).

Back in the museum, there was a huge copy of the Declaration of Independence on the wall with room left at the bottom for kids to sign their names. So I explained to M a bit about the Declaration and he said he was going to sign it. Then he asked me how to spell a name he wanted to sign with and he wrote it all out ON HIS OWN (a big huge deal for us). If you don't read Russian, the signature reads "Luke Skywalker".

And that was the last museum we visited in NY.