Archive for ‘Project-based Homeschooling’

November 24, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Rube Goldberg Machine

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 19, 2014.

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A Rube Goldberg machine is a complicated machine that performs a simple task. Two years ago, I found a video of a very enthusiast little boy who made a Rube Goldberg machine and posted it online. I loved it so much, I shared it on my blog. My son and I watched it several times, and it never failed to delight us. Audri’s excitement is infectious.

At the time I thought my son would probably like making one himself, but he was only six-years-old, and I didn’t say anything. If it were my idea and not his, it would surely fall flat. Besides that, I wasn’t sure I could even make one – they seem complicated!

Fast forward to late last week when my five-year-old wanted to show me what he made. I went into the living room to find that he had set up several items, and he showed me how a ball would go from one item to another and knock them over. Nothing was actually attached to each other, so I knew it wouldn’t work. He was just pretending and walking the ball through the course.

After he demonstrated this to his brother and me a couple of times, I told him he might want to watch Audri’s video. My eight-year-old could remember the enthusiastic little boy and that machine, but my five-year-old did not. So I found the video, and they both watched it several times. It was just as exciting as the first time we saw it.

After that, my eight-year-old said he wanted to make a real Rube Goldberg machine. I said okay, and we dedicated this past weekend to making the contraption. I did my best to let my son make all the decisions. I kept my mouth shut even if I knew he would fail.

And fail he did. His first idea was to use his scribble bot (a lightweight robot that moves some pens around on a piece of paper) to knock a heavy ball off a table, and that was supposed to knock a bottle of water over and into a funnel. The funnel was attached to a pipe and the water was supposed to go through the pipe and eventually come out where a pinwheel (which was spinning because a fan was blowing on it) would carry that water over into a bowl.

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As you can imagine, there was a lot wrong with this machine, but my only request was that he do it in the kitchen where I knew the water wouldn’t hurt the floor.

There’s so much to be learned from failing, and my son was having fun. He was thinking, problem solving, and trying things out. It didn’t take him long to see that nothing quite worked right and using water wasn’t a good idea.

My husband suggested he use a ball and gravity, and my son agreed. At this point my son also wanted to look up some other videos of Rube Goldberg machines to get ideas, so we spent some time doing that.

While watching the videos, I told him to think about what those machines used that we also had on hand. We don’t have pulleys or dominoes or large equipment, but we do have toy tracks, lots of balls, blocks, pieces of wood, string, popsicle sticks and other small items. I suggested that we take all these materials upstairs to our big room and look at them and see if it inspired anything.

At this point, it was getting close to lunch, and my son’s patience was waning. He sat in the room and fumbled around, not accomplishing anything. As he gets older, he is getting more patient and realizes that it takes time to build things, but that doesn’t stop him from getting frustrated or fussy. He wanted more of my help, but I knew at this point I’d just be taking over, if I did that. Instead, we opted to have lunch and try again the next morning.

The next day after breakfast, we were both fresh and ready to build this machine. I reminded my son that using gravity – starting from a high point – would help a ball gain momentum, and I reminded him that whatever we put into motion had to hit something else and put it into motion. I reminded him how in the videos we watched, sometimes a ball would pull a string, which would release another ball, etc.

I got him started by putting a spiral racetrack up on a box and connecting that to a ramp. The little car hit a ball at the end of the track and sent it down a ramp.

That was enough to get my son’s own ideas going. By now I had more ideas of my own, and I think I could help set up a course that would have gone clear across the room. But I kept my mouth shut and let my son do his own thing. (That was so hard to do!)

It took a long time to set up his last three steps – the ball hit another ball tied to a string. That string pulled away a popsicle stick and released another ball down a slide. That ball hits another ball that then rolls across the floor to hit and ring a bell.

It’s not a long, complicated machine that you might find if you search for Rube Goldberg machines on YouTube, but it’s my eight-year-old’s first Rube Goldberg Machine. After much trial and error, he finally got it to work, and during the process I heard him say, “If it doesn’t work, just try again.” Yes! He may be happy with his machine, but I’m happy about what he’s learning through this whole process.

Here’s a video of his final machine. All pics & video taken with my new smart phone. ;)

October 15, 2014

a few small things

I think the last few months have surely been the busiest of my life. Fortunately, I love everything I’m doing, or I would be a little more batty than I am right now.

First, I’m happy to tell you that the fall issue of home / school / life magazine was released yesterday, and I think it’s excellent. Of course, I’m biased, but I’ve heard from a few other people who aren’t biased, and they think so too, and that makes me happy. I wish I could take credit for the wonderfulness of this issue, but my editor-in-chief did most of the magic with two fabulous articles — one is about the 10 best cities in the U.S. to homeschool in. She set certain criteria, did tons of research, compiled it together and scrutinized the data to come up with this list. Though we’re not planning to move, I now have some town envy for sure! She also wrote a great piece about asking yourself important questions that will be helpful to you as you enter and navigate this homeschool journey. I’m pulling out my journal one night with that one!

I also love all the columns in this issue, especially Amy Hood’s tips on visiting an art museum with kids and Patricia Zaballos’ letter to her beginning-to-homeschool self. She sure knows how to comfort the frazzled homeschooling mom!

As for me, I wrote an article about how to become a better family photographer. If you’re a novice behind the lens, you may enjoy it! And something about writing this feature stirred up photography in my life (before-hand I had pretty much put it to rest for awhile) because suddenly I found myself with three photography clients. What fun it was to take photographs beyond the family snapshots I had been taking! You can see my work on my photography website.

And this brings me to my next piece of news: I started a Facebook page for my photography. It will probably remain mostly personal work, which is what I intended my photo website to be, but I also wanted a way to connect more easily with my clients and share their photos. If you are interested, I’d love for you to follow me there.

Between all this busy-ness, I have not neglected my homeschooling duties, and my eight-year-old has been delving into some new interests. I already told you about our adventures with tardigrades. We also recently had the opportunity to visit a Makers Faire near Atlanta, and I wanted to go to that because I knew there would be a lot of robotics groups there showing off their latest creations. That’s because my eight-year-old has been interested in robots lately! I wish it were easier to support this interest faster, but since good robotics kits aren’t cheap, he’s going to have to wait a little while for his wish to come true on this one. Anyway, I’ll be sure to write about an easy scribble bot we assembled with a kit from the faire, and I also have a surprise continuation of a project that I thought was finished: growing mushrooms. You can read about part 1 here, and I’ll fill you in on part 2 soon. (Of course, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know all this.)

I’ve been trying to support my five-year-old a little more with his drawing interest by displaying his work and also creating a corner in his room with art supplies and space to work! I’ll write about that, eventually.

Meanwhile, I’m getting ready for out-of-town guests. (I told you I’ve been busy, right?) So if you don’t hear from me for awhile, that’s why.

I hope you are having a wonderful fall season! Please write me and tell me what you’ve been up to.

October 10, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Tardigrades

photo courtesy of Don Loarie via flickr creative commons https://flic.kr/p/kbHNe3

photo courtesy of Don Loarie via https://flic.kr/p/kbHNe3 This image is the closest to what we saw through our microscope.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

My family and I have been enjoying watching the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which is a documentary series that explains the principles upon which science is based. It’s a follow-up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It uses storytelling and special effects such as Sagan did in the first series, but it’s all updated, and it’s a beautiful show.

In the second episode my family learned about tardigrades, and my eight-year-old became very excited. Tardigrades, or “water bears,” have to be one of the most amazing creatures on earth, and they are everywhere, but my family had no knowledge of them until now. This is because they are only .5mm – 1.2mm in length. They are big enough to see under a low-power microscope, but not big enough to notice when we’re walking through the woods on one of our hikes.

What is amazing about tardigrades is that they can live in conditions that would kill most other living creatures on earth. They can live in freezing temperatures (just above absolute zero) or in boiling water. They can withstand pressures that are far greater than that of the deepest trenches in the ocean. They can go up to ten years without food or water, and they have survived the vacuum of outer space. Because of these abilities, they have survived all five of Earth’s mass extinctions.

Their secret is cryptobiosis, which slows down the tardigrade’s metabolic processes. Without water, according to wired.com, “it can dehydrate to 3 percent of its normal water content in what is called desiccation, becoming a husk of its former self.” When you add water, they come back to life.

See why we were amazed to learn about these tiny creatures? My eight-year-old looked them up online, so we were able to view some photos and film taken of them under high-powered microscopes. We read more about them, and we also learned that it’s easy to find tardigrades in our backyard, so my son wanted to do that too.

We learned in Cosmos that they live in moss or lichen, but according to the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (SERC), tardigrades can be found almost everywhere. The center also said there are over 900 described species (though I have read over 1,500 species on another site), and they have been found in the mountains, ocean, rain forests and the Antarctic. That site also mentions that “Live tardigrades have been regenerated from dried moss kept in a museum for over 100 years!”

First my son wanted to gather some moss in the backyard, which we did, and we looked at it under our microscope – no tardigrades. So then he wanted to look up “what is the best kind of moss to find tardigrades in.” We tried that and found something more helpful – complete instructions on how to find and care for tardigrades.

We learned that we would probably have a better chance of finding tardigrades in lichen and that once you get a sample, you need to soak it in distilled or rain water for several hours or overnight. My son gathered some moss and two small containers of lichen and let it soak in rainwater for 24 hours.

The next day my eight-year-old wanted to look at the moss water first. You’re supposed to squeeze out the moss and then put the water in a shallow dish such as a petri dish and then spend about 15 minutes looking at it under the microscope.

We found nothing in the water with the moss, but when we looked at the water with the lichen, we found some tardigrades almost immediately.

We were surprised to see that they are translucent. What we saw was a reddish outline around their body. We could make out their eight legs, but we couldn’t see the claws. We also saw their tubular mouth. My son said they looked like little, chubby caterpillars to him.

We also found all sorts of other wiggly things in there too! We haven’t identified those other creatures yet, but I think one is a nematode, which looks like a worm, and tardigrades prey on them.

I left the microscope and the tardigrades on our table so that my son can observe them for a few days before we release them back into the yard. My son is fascinated with the microscopic life in this tiny dish, and now he says he wants to learn more about bacteria. You never know where this might lead.

August 16, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

I don’t know much about the Angry Birds game except that it used to be my son’s favorite game when he played on his dad’s Nexus, and when I sat down to watch him play, it seemed absolutely silly. But hey, it’s not for me. It’s for him, and I’m glad he’s having fun. I don’t have a problem with screen time, and while we do enforce some limits (it’s just part of our daily routine), our day’s overall screen time is definitely higher than what most conscientious parents prefer.

It’s really cool, however, when I see his interest in a game turning into a little project. All on his own one day, he made these angry birds and their raft. (Note: He already had access to all the materials he needed, and he knew how to use them, so he didn’t need anything from me.) How cool is that? Now the game doesn’t seem so silly, huh?

Never dismiss, restrict or belittle your child’s interest. Ask questions, nurture it, and it may blossom into something productive and cool! You never know!

July 24, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: A Mushroom Project Teaches Mama When to Let Go

mushroom project-1Last year when my seven-year-old told me he wanted to learn about and grow mushrooms, I was excited. This was something I could sink my teeth into. Though I’m a novice, I love plants and gardening, and mushrooms fascinate me. We see so many cool ones around here, and they never fail to excite me. My boys love looking at them too. So I was looking forward to learning about mushrooms alongside my son.

I had visions of learning how to identify mushrooms, creating a mushroom poster, and learning how to grow them at home. But I was a good PBH Mama. I didn’t mention any of that. 

Instead, I sat down with my son and asked him what he wanted to know. This is what he said and how I wrote it down in our project journal:

Mushrooms — “I want to grow them in the house or in a terrarium.”

  • Where are their spores?
  • Are they made of spores?
  • What are they made of?
  • How do they grow?

“My idea is to crumble mushroom into a terrarium.”

We’ll experiment with layers of dirt and scraps from woods. Mushroom from outside, but we need to identify.

1) Learn about mushrooms –> books from library

2) My idea to use terrarium. (I gave him an old venus flytrap terrarium we had.)

Don’t worry if that doesn’t totally make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I need to take better notes!

We checked out some books about mushrooms from the library, and when we got them home, my son enjoyed looking at the mushrooms in the field guides, but he wasn’t as interested in listening to me read about mushrooms. Despite the questions he asked, he mostly wanted to grow mushrooms. I knew his idea to crumble mushrooms into the terrarium would not work because I had looked up some videos on how to grow mushrooms for my own knowledge, and I showed him at least one video too.

I realized two things. 1) He wanted to do it his way, and I just needed to let him try that, and 2) growing mushrooms isn’t simple, but letting a seven-year-old try out his way of growing mushrooms is simple, and that’s what I needed to do anyway.

So, over a month or so, we tried some different things. I found a few notes I took in our project journal:

Sept. 13, 2013

He wants to chop mushrooms smaller and put under dirt. (Current project is very smelly.)

Later, I tried to sum up the few things we did in the journal. (I’m not very good at keeping this journal on a daily or even weekly basis, but I do manage to update it now and then.)

Oct. 8, 2013

We took old carnivorous plant terrarium with its dirt and added wood chips. (Because the seven-year-old knew that mushrooms needed a substrate.)

1) Bought button mushrooms, cut them up, put them on top of wood chips. We kept dome on and left it on front porch — they just rotted. We also put some of the mushrooms on leaf litter in the woods – nothing happened.

2) Seven-year-old found mushrooms with yellow caps in yard. [Since we’re not sure which mushrooms are poisonous and which are not, we never touch wild mushrooms with our hands. My son managed to gather these using two small sticks.] He put that in the pot and left dome off. They were gone in the morning. We think squirrels got them!

3) We bought Bunapi mushrooms at Dekalb Farmer’s Market. 2 days in refrigerator. We put them in terrarium, left dome on, and we’re keeping it inside house. Mist with water.

Unfortunately, my notes stop there, but nothing ever happened with those mushrooms either.  Eventually the terrarium ended up back in the garage, and my son’s other interests kept taking precedence.

However, something serendipitous happened! During the summer we were given some sundew seeds to try to grow. Remember my son’s carnivorous plant project? We kept them in a little cup with another plastic cup over it because it needed to stay wet and humid inside. Though the sundew never grew, we did find this one day when we were checking them! It was unintentional, but we did grow a mushroom!

For a long time, I thought this project was a bust. I felt like I did something wrong because he didn’t pursue it further, but actually I did ask him about it, and he didn’t seem interested in pursuing it further. That’s actually the whole point in project-based homeschooling: you let the child decide when he’s finished with a project. As I began looking back over this year to create an end-of-the-year review and write some of these end-of-the-year blog posts, I realized that we did, indeed, do a mushroom project. It just didn’t look like how I envisioned it would be.

Trying something and failing at it is one of the best ways of learning. Deciding not to pursue it further is a worthy decision. Though my son may not be able to identify the mushrooms that grow in our yard, and he doesn’t know how to grow mushrooms, he has actually learned quite a lot about mushrooms. He’s learned everything he’s wanted to learn about them. At least for now.

When I realized I needed to write this blog post, I thought I would ask my son one more time. He was standing next to my desk as I was looking at some of the photos we had taken of his mushroom experiments.

“Do you remember how you wanted to grow mushrooms?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to do anything more with that?”

“No.” A definite shake of the head. He walked away.

As I’ve written, learning is like a chain-link fence. We build our knowledge one link at a time; it expands and grows in different directions. My son has several links in his knowledge about mushrooms. If it ever matters to him again, he can build onto that knowledge, but it won’t mean much unless he wants to learn about it.

I think it’s neat that he had an idea, and he tried it. That’s what I want to encourage. Questions. Curiosity. Getting excited about attempting things he doesn’t know. 

As for me, I know that if I want to, I could do my own mushroom project. I could learn how to identify and grow them and share my interest with my boys, but as it turns out, all I really want to do is take photographs of them. So, for fun, I’m sharing my photographs of mushrooms here with you in this slideshow. Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?!

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What are you learning about today?

 

July 21, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: DNA

Way back in September 2013 when I officially kicked off my seven-year-old’s first grade year, I thought we were going to start a project on mushrooms. That’s what he had been talking about for awhile. He had mentioned DNA once, I think. So on that first day, when I pulled out the journal I try to keep updated with the things he talks about/asks about/says he wants to do, and how we follow up on them, I read off what he had recently told me, and he surprised me by saying he wanted to do a DNA project first. So that’s what we did.

(We also did some work with mushrooms, and I’ll write about that in my next PBH post.)

What he wanted to do most of all was build a DNA model. Remember how I told you he’s turning into a little builder? He wanted to buy a kit to build the DNA model, and maybe because his birthday had just passed, I told him he could buy one with his own money, if he really wanted it. But I suggested we look around at our supplies and try to make a homemade DNA model first. He agreed to that, and I tried to go with his ideas on what to use for the model. We ended up using ribbon, straws and pipe cleaners:

I didn’t think we would get it to stand up or twist, but I didn’t say anything, and look what he managed to do? Over time, it has fallen down, however, and he replaced the two pieces of cardboard holding it up with popsicle sticks glued together. That hasn’t held together well either, but he still has this model in his room. I was pretty proud of him for making this!

He still wanted the kit, so then I let him order it. I found the ScienceWiz DNA kit on Amazon, and I highly recommend it. It has a lot of cool experiments and little pieces that you can put together to make a nice DNA model. My little builder did that first.

This is one of my favorite photos of him ever. And I love all these photos I took of him putting together this kit. He is happy. He’s in his element. They speak volumes about who this kid is, so I’ll treasure them forever.

And we did more than that! First, we checked out The Usborne Introduction to Genes and DNA by Anna Claybourne from the library, and we read most of that book in several, short sittings. I think we checked out some other books, but this was the one he was interested in listening to once we got home. It’s a beautiful book. I wish we owned it. Some of it was a little hard for him to understand, but I think he got the gist of what DNA is. I mean, this isn’t an easy topic for ME, so I wasn’t worried if he didn’t understand everything.

Around this time we watched a documentary about the human genome project (I’m sorry I can’t remember the title). I think my son was able to understand it a little better having learned about DNA!

We had the most fun when we extracted DNA from a kiwi fruit! The instructions and most of the supplies were in the DNA kit. If we try it again someday, I may post the instructions on my blog, but for now I’ll send you over to one of my favorite blogs, The Scientific Mom. She’s got some instructions for you there. Because for some reason, though we could see DNA in the final step, we couldn’t pull the strands of DNA out of the tube. We had wanted to see them under a microscope. After they warmed up in just a few seconds, they seemed to disappear in the tub. So, I’m hoping we can try it again sometime with a different fruit.

Though you can’t really see it in the photo, we could see strands of DNA in the tube. (It looked like gooey string.) We could see it even better after putting it into the freezer for several hours.

There are several more activities to do in the kit, but after this one, my son seemed satisfied. Recently, however, he said he would like to do another project from the kit, so maybe we’ll do that this summer. Though the DNA project lost its momentum after this, I’ve seen it come up here and there, such as when they were playing with their zoob pieces.

And even just a week or two ago the four-year-old was practicing writing his letters on a dry erase board, and he thought he’d add some DNA to his number practice. :) What a memory!

All our projects are open-ended. I remind my son about his projects, and if he’s not interested in pursuing them further, that’s okay. (Although I admit sometimes that disappoints me because I want to learn more!) He seemed to lose interest in this after we finished extracting DNA from the kiwi fruit. Indeed, that felt like a grand finale! But this is a project I think we’ll continue over the long-term as we do more with that DNA kit, and maybe as he gets older, he’ll be able to better understand DNA and that will help him too.

Have you tried extracting DNA from fruit? I would love to hear about your experience.

 

July 17, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: This year’s cardboard projects

It’s the end of our “school year,” so I’m wrapping it up at home and on my blog. A few more posts to go!

As I review our past year, I have found that my seven-year-old has been quite a builder! I’ve written extensively about his interest in clay here and here. Now I want to share with you all those little cardboard projects that I thought might get their own post, but actually, they add up into one big post: my son’s interest in building. (I wish I could find a woodworking class for him. I think he would love that!)

The material we have most readily at home is cardboard, or more specifically the cardboard used to make cereal boxes or frozen pizza boxes — they are much easier to cut. I also keep LOTS of tape on hand, and I though I ask him to try not to be wasteful, I don’t fuss at him for being a little excessive with the tape when I see him being so productive!

We also have a cool shot glue gun, which I let him use on his own. It works well, and the glue cools more rapidly, which makes it safer. We had a regular glue gun, and while my son never got hurt, my husband and I both got some scalding burns from it! ;) My son has learned to be quite cautious with glue guns.

Here are his creations made between last summer and this summer in no particular order:

“spaceship robot”

Thank you Curious George for giving my son the idea to make this big robot!

A representation of the Mayflower. Unlike most of his creations, I did help him a lot with this because he didn’t have the motor skills for the fine details, especially tying the thread. However, he absolutely directed me on where everything was supposed to go. He looked at photos of the Mayflower and designed it himself.

He wanted a toy tank, so he built one for himself. I helped him a little, but I’m certainly not responsible for that excessive use of tape! :) He also looked at a photo online to help with his design.

A “thin, flat lizard” inspired by a box he found.

A bee made out of a toilet paper tube and some wire, etc.

I think this is supposed to be a mosasaur.

“A drill that goes to the center of the earth.” “It’s pretend,” he said.

Airplane.

He loves Star Wars and decided to build Darth Vadar’s ship as closely as he could to the design in the movie. He was willing for the center to be a cube since it’s hard to make a sphere out of cardboard.

These creations take up a lot of space in the house. They can fall apart, and sometimes he’ll fix them and other times he doesn’t. I encourage him to throw them away or recycle the materials when something is unrepairable, or when we’re running short of space, but I don’t force him to throw anything away. It’s all important to him, and I respect that. My sanity suffers a little, but mostly I’m just super proud of my little builder!

July 7, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Long-term Clay Interest

I’ve already written a detailed column about my seven-year-old’s recent participation in pottery classes and his growing interest there, but I wanted to create a post that showcases some of his work with clay over the long-term and how it has slowly culminated to the point where I knew he would love those clay classes!

He’s been working with clay since he was four. A year or two ago, he watched some videos about pottery and clay, and he made this little car following a tutorial.

And he made a tree of his own design.

His Titanic was part of a long project, and my column became one of my first and most popular PBH articles.

Remember when he made this penguin?

I never showed you his space shuttle.

Or his sauropod.

His Mayflower. He also made the Mayflower out of cardboard, and we read a book about it, so this was a little bit longer project.

His hummingbird. He also painted it, but I haven’t got a picture of that.

Earlier this year we enrolled him in a homeschool pottery class where he learned how to use the pottery wheel…

…and sculpting techniques such as “pinch pots” and “slip and score,” and then he used those techniques at home…

…to make some sculptures such as this frog. Later he painted it green, and it’s really cute.

And he made a bird sitting in a nest.

And a dinosaur.

We also let him take a week-long pottery summer camp, which was about Asian pottery and Raku methods…

The big pieces on the left and all the pieces in the front row are from his Asian pottery camp. (The big black one is a lantern shaped like a house. Though it looks black in the photo, it actually has some very cool, iridescent colors in it.) Also there are two sushi plates and the plate with different compartments are from his Asian pottery camp. Everything else he made in the homeschool pottery class. And he’s anxious to take more classes!

As I mentioned in my column, we’ve also taken him to some pottery sales, and he’s had a chance to speak to local potters and see their kilns. We plan to continue letting him take classes as long as he wants to (and as long as we can afford it), but this will probably happen over a long time. I look forward to seeing where he takes this!

And I guess I need to get more shelves. :-o

June 20, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.

June 18, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Pablo Picasso

Over a year ago, I bought a little sketchbook while I was browsing an art store with my boys. I knew that I wanted to use it myself, but I justified the purchase by allowing it to be another homeschooling tool that I was just going to keep on hand for when the moment was right.

A couple of weeks ago, I was proofreading the Art Start column for the summer issue of home / school / life magazine. (Did I mention I recruited Amy Hood because she’s awesome at explaining this art stuff in a completely stress-less way?) Her column is about starting a sketchbook habit, and it came to me at just the right time.

My little sketchbook that I bought a year earlier was still empty. So were the big, beautiful sketchbooks that were given to my boys for gifts a year or more ago. As soon as I read her column, I knew it was time to change that.

The most important reason besides me wanting a new hobby is that my four-year-old loves to draw. He draws and draws and draws. And paints. (I wrote about that in Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects.) I’ve got several stacks of paper with his artwork on it, and I don’t know what to do with it all, but I’m not throwing it away. I’m encouraging him to do more. And if I am going to help him draw, then I need to learn about it too. (Remember in project-based homeschooling, parents should model the actions they want their children to take.) While my seven-year-old prefers other mediums, I knew a sketchbook habit might be fun for him too.

But I knew that I couldn’t expect my boys to just start a sketchbook habit. They don’t do things simply because I tell them to. That never works! I knew that I had to get past my insecurities about drawing and just do it for myself. Then, maybe then, they would follow. But if they didn’t, that would be okay too.

I am not an artist, and frankly, I don’t want to be. I can draw well enough to enjoy drawing, but I want to do this so that I have something just for myself. Just for fun. With no pressure.

My passions are writing and photography, but after working at those for so long, they aren’t as fun anymore. I want to remember how to be creative and simply have fun. When I do that, then I start to have more fun with my passions. Does that make sense? I need something that gets me away from my computer too.

I was very happy to see that when I pulled out my sketchbook, my seven-year-old was interested in what I was doing. I told him about that beautiful sketchbook I had been saving for him. I gave it to him, and he’s been using it. (Unfortunately, it has caused some stressful breakdowns on his part when perfectionism rears its ugly head. Sigh. But I think over time the sketchbook may help him deal with that. At least I hope.) It’s supposed to be fun and just for practice!

lagoon outside our vacation condo by seven-year-old

I decided not to give the four-year-old his nice sketchbook yet. This is because he flies through the paper, and I have my limits. First, I gave him the little sketchbook that came with the pencil set I bought. After that, I bought him another inexpensive sketchbook. I will give him the nicer one when he gets a little older.

apple tree in the rain by four-year-old

I do not exaggerate when I say that I think this new sketchbook habit saved my sanity while we were on vacation. My four-year-old was sick that week, and I was stuck in the condo quite a bit, which was disappointing. But it didn’t seem so bad at all when I pulled out my sketchbook, sat on the back deck and drew the gnarly, big oak dripping with Spanish moss. Or when I took a chair down by the lagoon and tried to draw the snowy egrets and their nest.

If you are looking for a creative outlet, I recommend starting a sketchbook habit, especially if you make it stress-free by not caring if your drawings are good or not. It’s the act of sitting quietly, concentrating on an object, and really seeing it that is relaxing. For me, it’s an act of mindfulness and a respite from my busy life.

 My four-year-old asked me to draw the cecropia moth so that he could paint it, which he did.  He said he also tried to paint a luna moth, but he didn’t like it.

seven-year-old drew our cat

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