Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Alchemist finds a friend

I've spent hundreds of dollars on books for my son. He has a bookshelf in his room, and has been surrounded by books all his life. I started reading to him when he was born.

And he used to love books. We would visit the library, and he would borrow more books than he could carry, so I would also have an armload.

Then he went to public school, Montessori, but still public. And when he was required to read in fourth grade, he lost his love for reading. Gone were his desires to borrow books from the library, or to read anything at all.

Once I brought him home for schooling in fifth grade, he regained some of his desire for non-fiction, but it has never recovered fully. His interest in fiction extended only as far as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and a few of the old "Goosebumps" books.

And so, I've brought home so many books, trying to get him interested in reading again. He's 13, and had never read a novel until last month, when he finally finished "The Alchemist."
I bought that book at Costco as a Christmas gift for him, on a whim. I read a couple of pages, and it seemed interesting to me. As I checked out, a guy who was loading my items into the cart commented on how great the book was. I didn't have a lot of hope, but I gave it to Sean early, in November, anyway. I expected him to read the first chapter and put it down, never to read another page. That has been the fate of so many of his books.

But I encouraged him to finish it. Each evening I would tell him to read, and the next day I would ask him, with a mix of subdued excitement and quiet hope, "What's happening in the book, now?" Whatever he said, I expressed genuine interest. Whether he had read one page, or ten, I let him know that I was interested in what was going to happen next.

And finally, once I was certain he was enjoying the book, I decided we needed to come up with a deadline. I've avoided forcing him to read, because I felt that was what killed his love for reading in the first place. But now that he's getting older, and we're in the middle of Middle School, I told him he has to get used to having assignments and deadlines for completing them.

He took the book with him when he went to visit a friend, and although he didn't read it that weekend, he shared it with the friend and his mom. He has also talked about it to a friend he has on Xbox Live, who lives in Canada. And GLORY Halleluiah! that kid is a reader, and has recommended a book called, "The Hatchet." He talked about how he has 79 books on his book shelf, and it seems to have reignited Sean's interest in books.

I was so pleased with the way he understood the nuances of the book, and made connections with the metaphors for life. I knew nothing about the book when I bought it, and I realize now that it's probably not something a typical 13 year old would be expected to read. But I'm glad I didn't know, because Sean totally got it. And I didn't use any pre-fab lesson plan, nor did I require him to make notes and answer a bunch of questions about it. That's the quickest way to ruin a book for me. I think he liked the book so much because I asked him to retell it to me every day, and he understood it so well because he had to explain so much to me because I've never read it.

Here's what I did do in order to engage him a little more: I suggested that he pretend he is a book publisher, and Paulo Coelho, the author, has submitted the book to him, asking for it to be published. He liked the book, so I said, "Now, you need to write a summary of the book that you believe will entice people to want to buy it, because if they buy it, it means money for you, and for Paulo."

In addition to this, I asked him to pretend he is a movie producer, and has decided to make the book into a movie.
He carefully wrote down each character, a description of them, and then the actor or actress he would choose to play each role. He found photos of them online, printed them and cut them to size, and created this movie poster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Black History Month and a Professor

My husband sent me a text today letting me know that a professor would be speaking at a forum in our community tonight. The description I received said the talk would be about police and minority relations in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri unrest.

So, today I asked Sean to do some research on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. He read about Michael Brown, and the protests, and the decision not to indict the police officer, online, and he took some notes. Grudgingly. And then I asked him to look for information about Tamir Rice. The information he gathered on Tamir Rice included surveillance video of that shooting. It was so heartbreaking that it took my breath away to watch it. No sound, just footage.

After watching that video, we discussed the tragedy. A boy, alone at a park, goofing off with a pellet gun, or an Airsoft gun, or something that was not a real gun. (Sean and I both wonder if the term 'pellet' is correct. There is a difference.) And this is something that boys do. Almost every one of Sean's friends has a similar gun. Though they aren't what I would call toys, they are also not real guns. Sean surmised that Tamir Rice could have been holding a Coke can, and the results would be the same. A dead 12 year old. One year younger than Sean is right now.

(I remember when it happened, and how sickened, worried, and sorrowful I was. I cannot imagine that mother's grief and pain.)

He clicked on an editorial by a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which revealed a deep problem of racial discrimination, and violation of civil rights by police officers there. That former police officer called for not only reforms in police training, but accountability. He said the problem is that police officers know they won't be held accountable. At worst, they get put on paid leave, something he said they call a free vacation. So, until we start to demand that they be held to a higher standard of conduct, with clear consequences, nothing will change.
Here's a link to that article:

Tonight we listened as Dr. Dexter Gordon, professor and Director of African American Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound, talked about these and other issues surrounding race, education, and poverty.
Though there were no clear quick fixes to the problems, the answer seems to be to continue the fight to change people's perceptions. Provide equal access to education and opportunities, and find ways to combat poverty.

And for me, the answer is to keep on doing what I'm doing. Keep exposing Sean to new experiences, provide him with as many examples of people of color in positions of authority and success as possible. Sacrifice, and do whatever it takes to give him opportunities, like piano lessons, and summer camps. And all of this will help him gain access to his goals.

But somehow, some way, I have to steel myself for the inevitable reality. My son will most likely have negative police interactions, and it won't matter if he has NOT broken the law. Unless you are black, or the parent of a black or brown child, you can't understand this.

I know some of my friends don't believe this. It is real. It is the reality of black and brown people. You can try to explain it away all you want, but if this started happening to white people, if we were pulled over for making eye contact with an officer, or assumed to be breaking into our own homes, and arrested or pepper sprayed for it, this crap would stop. White people would take to the streets, they'd be mad, demand that the Mayor, or the Police Chief, or SOMEBODY, do something to change it.
And yet when black people get angry and take to the streets demanding change, we call them names. White people start throwing out labels like "thug," and say things like, "the best way to not get killed by cops is to obey the law." But the laws, last time I checked, were put in place to ensure that we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I am no expert on the law, but I've never heard about cops having the right to gun down unarmed people on suspicion of guilt. Their job is to make arrests, and only if there is cause, and then WE, the PEOPLE, get to decide if they are guilty.

Unless you are a person of color, I guess.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias

N.C. Police pepper spray black teen in his own home

Ohio Cop Pulls Over Black Man Who 'Made Direct Eye Contact' With Him

But we have to keep moving forward, and one by one, step by step, work to make the world a better place for all of us.
And in the coming days, we will look closer at the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and see how much we think has changed since his I Have A Dream speech.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month and Poetry

Each year during Black History Month we highlight someone in history. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr. is a go-to, because he was such an amazing leader. We've also studied Rosa Parks, and a few others.

This year I brought home one book on Martin Luther King, Jr. from the library during his birthday week, and I also found a book of poetry by Langston Hughes, "Poetry for Young People."

Sean read most of the poems today, aloud, while I drove him to PE at the Y. I could tell he was enjoying them. He has always appreciated poetry. One of the poems, "My People" includes an editor's note explaining how Hughes clashed with his father, who had a negative attitude about Negroes. Sean and I discussed why his father might have felt that way. We didn't have a good answer.

When we were finally home, he sort of wandered around the house. I let him, and didn't ask him to do school work, or anything at all. I recognize his pacing. It means he is thinking, and trying to decide what to work on. I believe this is an important process, and should not be interrupted. I also know how important that time can be, because I used to do it every day as a newspaper reporter. To the outsider it looks like you are procrastinating, wasting time, goofing off. For the creative person, it's invaluable time. I was formulating a lead paragraph, recalling all of the standout quotes, and thinking, thinking, thinking. When I was ready, I could sit down at the computer and put together my story. Of course, at a newspaper this whole process has to happen within a very small window of time.

Luckily, we don't have to do it so quickly. After about 30 minutes, he asked for the book of poems. And within about 30 more minutes, he came out of his room. He had chosen a favorite poem from the book, and written about it, and Langston Hughes, in his history composition book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A mid-year review

This is really just for my benefit, but feel free to read if you are interested.

This school year has, so far, been an exercise in experimenting with unschooling.
We packed up all of our school supplies and Montessori materials in June, prior to taking a road trip through the Southwest. We thought we would have our house on the market in June, and hoped it would be sold by the time we should be starting school in the fall.

But we didn't get the house listed until August, and the house still hasn't sold, and it's January.

We had to do all of our learning without our Montessori materials. We just recently got them out of storage, and set up in a spare room.

What he has done:
Lots of practical life. Planning, making lists, budgets. He comes up with schedules for himself. He has set goals for specific amounts of money to earn, then set about working to earn that money. It hasn't been perfect, but he's practicing, and that is what I like to see. He did make his goal of $100 by Christmas to help pay for his Xbox One. And he has a plan to open a new savings account that will feed into an investment account that he has.

Any new information has come from him seeking it, and he does that mostly through online research. His focus is on science, and specifically biology, and medical science.
Here's one of my observations from work he did in September -The fact that he naturally started making detailed notes of the subject matter, in an organized fashion, and carefully spelled each word, makes me wonder if we all come to these ways of understanding information on our own. Instead of being taught how to take notes, how to organize information, we are naturally able to do it. Or maybe it is easier for this generation because of the access to Internet, and informational videos which provide it in an organized way.
Because he loves science, and I want to give him as many opportunities to pursue his passion as possible, I took him to the Pacific Science Center for the Visiting Scientist day in November. He was able to hold a human brain, and the scientist spent a long time with him, explaining the regions of the brain and their functions. We explored some other cool stuff there, including 3-D printed prosthetics, a robot, and he used a pipet to fill a test tray, like they use in a lab.
He knows how to find information. He makes connections with new information and old, and routinely pulls out his Elements book.

We added PE to our weekly away-from-home school routine. He has enjoyed PE at the YMCA twice a week. He continues to take piano lessons weekly as well.

Vocabulary words seem to excite him, the idea of learning new words, and what they mean. So he has done some of that work, especially in September and October.

This year he got really focused on small, detailed work, specifically with painting small figures. He doesn't use kits, and instead comes up with his own ideas. He painted some Lego figures.

One project has been completed, one that he has done before, but he expanded upon it this year: Deadly Spiders. Instead of a list of deadliest spiders as he has done in the past, after making a draft of what he knows about spiders, he decided to focus on one spider-the Australian Funnel Web Spider.

He has continued to work on multiplication and division, and tried a new system of his own making to try to get the answers quicker.

We've maintained our friendships with our homeschool group, and tried to continue seeing them on Thursdays for a little while, but mostly have seen them at PE.

He has learned some history, the crusaders are interesting to him, and he read quite a bit about them early in the fall. Another history lesson came when I took him to see the movie, "Suffragette," at the Grand Theater in Tacoma in November. He wasn't very interested in going, but I told him I wanted to see it, and I wanted him to go. When we arrived, he asked if he could just wait in the car for me. I explained that I have accompanied him countless times on outings and activities that I would not do on my own, but I did with him because I knew it was something he enjoyed. And that is what we do when we care about someone. We share in their joys and interests. So I made him go.

From an early age I encouraged him to take care of his own business, with my guidance, and in an age-appropriate way. He orders his own food, and in some cases orders for both of us if we go out to an Asian restaurant. He also makes his own phone calls to request information about items he has ordered on the Internet, or if he needs to get his money back for an item that was never shipped. (It probably helps that he has always had a deep voice and doesn't sound like a kid.) Recently I was frustrated with the YMCA website, and couldn't get him signed up for the next session of PE. He took over, and even called the YMCA to let them know the website was difficult to navigate, and that he needed help to sign up for the class.

He continues to draw and create on his own, and I'm so thankful that I have been able to provide him with continued art instruction through our local arts alliance. He has taken several classes again this fall, though he is aging out, it seems.

Reading continues to be a struggle, as far as novels and fiction. He prefers factual information. I did get him started on a book called "The Alchemist." He's reading it, slowly, but reading it. Most of his reading is done online, through his own research, and the history he reads on his own.

His interest in social issues continues to increase. He believes all people should have equal rights, and everyone should be allowed to love who they want to love, and pursue their own interests, education, and have access to equal pay, and the jobs they want.

This sums up most of what we've been doing for the first half of 7th grade. Now that we have our materials, the second half will be more guided.

Signed Numbers

I finally did it. I plunged into the Montessori Algebra for the Adolescent album today.

I woke up today feeling awful, and napped for some of the mid morning. But this afternoon I decided it was time to at least start on the chapter for signed numbers.

My fear when I purchase, especially, or when I make materials, is that he will use it once and won't touch it again, or won't use it at all. I spent a good amount of time making the positive and negative counters, so I was determined that they would be used. (I made them out of foam sheets. One gray, one green. One with adhesive backing. Suggested by Jessica Welsh. Great idea. The positive and negative square counters are 1 cm by 1 cm. I cut the out the skittles by hand, and they aren't so great, but they'll do.)

I demonstrated the problems with the counters, and had him write the problems down in his math notebook.

It went so well! He already understood the concept of negative numbers, which helped. We worked quite a few problems. I started with units, like the example in the album, and he was feeling confident and asked to do multiplication. But instead, I decided he needed to continue with the addition and subtraction, so we worked up to using tens.

Math is the one subject I do not feel confident to teach, but I am determined. I have gone back and forth in my mind about putting him in school part time just for math, or hiring a tutor again, but I really believe in this method, and I want to at least give it my best shot before giving up on it.

I like this album, so far. It is thorough, and has a list of materials at the back, which I find very helpful. The only thing I wish is that albums came with an option to buy materials that match the album. It's time consuming to piece this all together.

This album goes through 12th grade, and includes a lot of math I've never used. I do like a challenge, so... here we go!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Birthday Milestone

This was written in September, 2015

As I write this, Sean is engaged in a major social milestone.

It's his birthday party, although his birthday was a couple of weeks ago. He wanted an Airsoft party, and we've been planning it for quite a while. We decided to make it an optional campout. Being 13 is a big deal, and to me it should come with some big kid stuff. The start time was 4 p.m., because he wanted part of the Airsoft party to be a night game. We took a break for dinner, steaks and hot dogs on the grill, a pizza, veggie tray, and potato salad. Then cake. And as soon as the food settled, they were back out for more Airsoft game.

Five of the six boys stayed to camp in tents. All of the boys who stayed, as well as Sean, have been to camp at Camp Seymour for various lengths of time. But camping in our back yard, in tents, with as much hands-off adult supervision as we feel is safe is different than being at camp with a whole bunch of kids with planned activities. This has been mostly a free for all. Chuck did some herding to get them going on their games, and at the end of the games gave a time limit, and then we confiscated the weapons.

We were liberal with the time limit. At 10 p.m. the games ended and all weapons were brought into the house.

They are laughing, talking loudly, being boys. It's late, and I'd like to go to sleep sometime tonight, but I like that he is experiencing something of a milestone.

My brother and I grew up this way. It wasn't anything planned by our parents. We lived in a neighborhood where most of the homes sat on 1/4 to 1/2 acre, and all of the kids played together. We reached milestones together without realizing it, and it was natural for us to camp out, stay up all hours of the night in the summertime, walk together to the store for a pop and a candy bar, and have disagreements and learn how to negotiate and work it out. We had strict boundaries for behavior and responsibilities, but we were free to be kids.

Parents are different now. A lot of parents won't allow their boys to play with Airsoft guns, or spend the night outside. I get it. I understand their worries.
But these kids are having fun. And I want my son to know what it feels like to sleep out there surrounded by friends, talking nonsense boy stuff, building memories that he will treasure for a lifetime.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Brain Science

Sean loves science, and has had an interest in the brain for a couple of years.

This month's Visiting Scientist day at the Pacific Science Center was focused on brain science. I knew he would love it, so I put it on our calendar.

It takes us a while to get there, and if traffic is bad it takes longer. Traffic wasn't great, and it was a blustery day. Parking is always a little tricky, even though there is a parking garage. It was nearly full, and I finally found a spot at the very bottom of the garage.

The room was packed with tables, scientists, and budding scientists. It was the most crowded scientist day we've been to so far. The tables spilled out into other sections, and I think there were 20 tables manned by doctors and researchers from the University of Washington Medical Center, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, along with some university students and volunteers. There seemed to be a mix of brain-related information, and some other science activities. I saw some carnations soaking up various colored dye. There was a guy from Fish and Wildlife talking about fish population, and a table where kids could assemble their own cells with plastic zip lock bag, confetti, and pom poms.

Every table was crowded, except for one in the corner.

When we first arrive at such a scene, he needs to get his bearings and take a moment to scan the room and process it all. It's a little overwhelming.

I decided our best bet was to find a station that was empty and start there.  I scanned the room quickly, and spotted a table in the corner with no kids. I steered him there. It looked boring to the untrained eye, but I knew there were exciting things under the cloths.

Eureka! Real human brains!

The neuroscientist explained the regions of the brain and their functions as Sean held the brain in his hand. His first comment upon holding it was, "It's not as heavy as I thought it would be."

This was the perfect place to start. He got one-on-one instruction, asked questions, and really soaked it all in.

Sean listens as a neuroscientist talks about the brain before placing it in his hand.
From there we moved around the room to look at a robot, and some 3-D printed stuff that included a prosthetic hand. This table was intriguing, because Sean took a 2-hour class this month at one of our library branches on 3-D printing, and designed and printed a letter S. He had fun talking to the guys at this table. He learned that some of them had designed a 3-D printer nozzle to print with clay, but the nozzle doesn't work. However, they learned a lot by trying to make that nozzle, they said. Lesson there, don't be afraid to fail!
Prosthetic hand made from 3-D printer.

From there he went on to a table with a matching game. Photos of brains on one page, and photos of animals on another, and he had to figure out which brain came from each animal.We stopped at a table about blood, and information about blood donation and compatible blood types. Sean got to use an instrument that drops samples into trays, and it was one of his favorite things there.

We absolutely love the Pacific Science Center. Our membership has paid for itself already, and with our membership this year, we get a subscription of Popular Science magazine. Win, win!

Though we've been going since Sean was about 3 years old, it was our first time going into the Butterfly Garden. It was so enchanting and beautiful. I could sit in there all day if they had chairs. That's probably why they don't. ;-)