Little Builders

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 30, 2013.

Last October I took my boys to a birthday party, and the birthday boy received a Lego kit.  While we were there, my six-year-old sat next to the boy who built the car, helping him find the pieces. Later, when we got home, my six-year-old said, “You know, I think I could do that.” 

That was music to my ears. This is a boy who as a toddler was content to watch me build with blocks and rarely took the risk to build his own tower.  Later I figured it out it’s partly because he’s a visual learner and likes to watch several times before he feels comfortable doing something on his own.

At the time of the birthday party, we only had Duplo blocks at home, which are the big Legos, and no Lego kits. But we did have a BYGGA construction set from IKEA, which has tools, wooden blocks, shapes, and wheels that you can make a plane, helicopter or motorcycle out of. Like Legos, the instructions are numbered illustrations, so my son could follow them without having to read anything.

The BYGGA set is not as complicated or stable as Legos, but my son had never tried to use it without my help. After the party, he pulled it out and constructed a vehicle with minimal help from me.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Santa brought my son for Christmas, huh? Yes, a really cool Lego kit that he could build a plane, boat or helicopter with.

I don’t know why adults think that children don’t have long attention spans. I would have given up as soon as I poured those hundreds of tiny Legos on the table. But my son spent two days building the airplane, and again, he needed minimal help from his dad or me.

Last week, my son decided to pull the airplane apart and build the helicopter. Again, he spent a full day and part of another on it, and my husband was starting to get frustrated with him because it looked like his neck and shoulders were hurting, but my six-year-old wanted to persevere.

The next morning, my three-year-old asked his brother to make him a plane out of the BYGGA set, so he could “fly” around the house too.  My six-year-old was glad to do it, and then they spent the morning “flying” together.

Even though the BYGGA and Lego kits are beyond my three-year-old’s ability right now, I have always thought of him as my “little builder.” He is clearly hands-on, fearless, and he goes right to it whenever he sees anything he can stack. He even stacked the after dinner coffee cups left on the tables at my in-laws anniversary celebration.

We have several sets of blocks, and my three-year-old will stack them up, or he’ll make walls. I gave him a set of small Legos for Christmas, and he likes to cover the base with one layer of colorful Legos.

I have a small bag of geometric shapes, and he’ll pull those out and make interesting patterns on the floor, or maybe he’ll make a flower – something he saw his brother do. He’s good at puzzles, sorting and making patterns. Once he took a set of cards and lined them up on the floor, three to a row.

I’m thrilled to be home with my children and watch their unique abilities unfold. I’m grateful that they have the time and materials to express themselves and develop skills through hands-on work.

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For some more information about how to get your children started building, be sure to see these previous posts:

If you’d like to read some articles about the benefits of block building for children, go here:

What kinds of things do your children like to build?

Inspire Kids: International Space Station Tour

This video requires no introduction. How cool is this? My six-year-old loved it.  I heard a resounding “OOOOoooo….Ahhh….” as she entered the cupola and looked down at earth.

This was filmed in November 2012.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 23, 2013.

If you want to take advantage of the warm spells we get during the winter in Georgia, one place I recommend going is Hard Labor Creek State Park. We visited there for the first time this past fall (early November) when the leaves were gold and just falling from the trees, and we wondered why we had never gone to this beautiful park before.

It’s located about 30 miles south of Winder in Morgan and Walton counties, and at 5,804 acres, it’s one of the largest state parks in Georgia. It boasts an 18-hole golf course as well as two lakes, camping, cottage rentals, swimming, horse trails, hiking trails and much more.

The park has a rich history.  Before the establishment of the park, the land was made up of corn and cotton fields, and due to poor land-use practices, it was not very productive.  During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a part of his New Deal program. The purpose of CCC was to create recreational areas while also teaching young men new skills and trades.

Between 1934 -1939, there were two CCC camps at Hard Labor Creek, and they together with the U.S. Forestry service built the park. You can still see many of their original structures and landscapes today, including Lake Rutledge.  They also cultivated over 850,000 trees!

My favorite outdoor activity is hiking, and the day we were there, I was determined to walk at least a moderate trail, so I coaxed my family onto the 1-mile Brantley Trail that took us on a tour of some of the beautiful trees that the CCC planted.

Now the trees are mature, and according to a leaflet we found at the beginning of the path, we walked under a canopy of loblolly pines and sweetgum trees, and we also spied white oak, river birch, hickories, red maples, and blackjack oak.

We skedaddled past this tree.

Here you can see how the area is still recovering from the farming.  In the late 1800s, “the upland forest in this area of the piedmont was almost completely stripped for timber and agricultural lands.”  However, it was too steep to farm along the streams, so there you’ll find taller, larger hardwoods.  If you look at “the upslope trees,” you see they are smaller, and there’s more pines and sweetgum.

When we were there this fall, hiking with a six-year-old and three-year-old still required a great deal of patience.  My three-year-old graced us with his first temper tantrum in the middle of the forest, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a child screams in a forest and no one is around to hear it… Ah, well, unfortunately, we were there, and yes, it was quite loud.  But it passed as all things do, and we had a pleasant walk. We also strolled over to the lake, and it offered some beautiful scenery.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Hard Labor Creek State Park, you might join one of several Historic Wagon Ride Tours offered in February, or perhaps you’d prefer Fireside Stories told by a retired park ranger who, according to the park’s website, has a passion for CCC history.  Go to http://www.gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek for more information on these and other events at the park.

Where’s your favorite outdoor recreation area?

Worthy Reads

Homeschooling

*NOTE GEORGIA HOMESCHOOLERS: New bills affecting homeschooling in Georgia – Atlanta Homeschooling Examiner

How home schooling threatens monopoly education – USA Today

Homeschooling — Another Name for Helicopter Parenting? – Huffpost Students

The Microcosm of Homeschooling – Huffpost Teen

A Home-Schooling Pioneer Looks to the Future – NYTimes.com

The Messy Side of Interest-Led Learning – Interest-Led Learning

Learning to use the time you have – Project-Based Homeschooling

Homeschool Reflection: I’m Ambivalent – Patheos

Education

Online courses need human element to educate – CNN Schools of Thought

Raising and Educating Boys

Guns don’t kill people – our sons do – USA Today – Very provocative column, and I have to agree with it.

Boys, Bullying & Guns – Blogging ‘Bout Boys

Inspire Kids: Shape-shifting dinosaurs

I found this informative Ted Talk, and I thought my six-year-old would enjoy it because like many children, he’s very interested in dinosaurs. He did like it.

I watched it with him, and I explained to him what the word “ego” means, and I also pointed to the charts as the paleontologist was talking since my son can’t read yet.  I also told him that’s it’s a great example of something very important to remember:

We have to keep asking questions. Keep researching. We can’t assume that we have all the answers.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines

 This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

Winter Habits

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 16, 2013.

When we walk through the woods this time of year, most of the animals and insects are burrowed under the ground or huddled together in whatever holes they can find. My son’s favorite animal, the snake, will find a place to burrow underground and sleep through the cold weather. Rabbits and deer don’t hibernate. They’ll be on the lookout all season for any leaves, barks or twigs they can find to eat.

Frogs don’t hibernate either, but they go into a dormant state where they sleep most of the time. They may wake up on warmer days and go out for a bite to eat. They have a chemical in their bloodstream that’s kind of like antifreeze, which is how they can survive the freezes.

The black bears in Georgia are probably sleeping now, and the females may have their babies in the den this winter. The cubs will stay with mama for a year before she urges them to fend for themselves in early spring or summer of next year.

Did you know that this is the time of year that Right Whales migrate from New England to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, and the females will give birth here anytime between December and March?

The squirrels huddle together in their nests on cold days. We can see the squirrel’s nests high up in the trees now that the leaves have fallen. Their nests are big and messy, and they have spent the warmer months collecting acorns and other food for the winter. Sometimes they like to bury their food in my garden beds, but they forget about it, and I have to pull the tiny beginnings of trees from the soil in spring.

Many birds are migrating south this time of year, and fortunately for us, Georgia is a winter home for many of them. I’ve spied more hawks sitting on electrical wires along our roads, and my son made a peanut butter/bagel bird feeder in his winter mini-camp that will feed a variety of them. My favorite feathered friend, the northern cardinal, is a year-round resident of Georgia. It’s especially beautiful in the winter when its red feathers brighten up the brown landscape.

In my house, I have one little boy who refuses to wear coats in the winter, so he prefers to play indoors. The other one (who refuses to wear shorts in the summer) is happy to wrap up and take a hike during his camp.  But they’re both finding more time to pull out the art supplies and fill one of the walls in our kitchen, a.k.a “the art gallery,” with their masterpieces.

I have a husband who is back at work after a winter break and burrowed in front of his computer screen.

I may not be an animal that hibernates or goes dormant during the cold months, but I sure wish I could.  Usually I crave time spent outside, but lately I’ve been happy to wear my sweats around the house and not get any exercise at all. If it weren’t for the demands of my children, I would curl up on the sofa with a good book all day.

I’ve been spending less time on social media, less time reading the news, and generally wanting to get away from my usual habit of doing too much. It’s a good season for that, so I’m just going with it.

Today the weather got a little warmer, and I talked my children into going for a walk with me. I pulled the three-year-old in our wagon, and my six-year-old walked beside me, playing make-believe as a he held onto a toy frog.  Both of my boys kept pointing to things as we walked. Two geese flying over our heads, decorative yard art, litter, and a patch of dirt on the road were all topics of conversation.

I love living in Georgia because I can depend on warm spells in winter that will stir me into action. But on the colder days, I’ll have to drag myself out of bed and hope that the enthusiasm of these boys will be enough to rouse this sleepy mama.