Saturday, January 29, 2011

Music

I am not a musical person. I like listening to the radio in the car, but I pay very little attention to artists, and song titles and things like that. (Same is true for movies, actors, producers and directors. Which makes me terrible at trivia!) Of all the forms of entertainment, music pretty much comes in last around our house. But that hasn't stopped my boys from being interested in it.

We've had a piano since before Nico was born, courtesy of Tim's parents who passed it down to us from his grandparents. So the boys have been banging on the keys since they could reach them. I've offered them piano lessons, a few times, but every time I've been shot down. See, they're already "really, really good!" so they don't need lessons.

For Christmas Nico was given a guitar, and Lucas an electronic drum set. I had my reasons for picking the electronic drum set, 1. smaller and takes up less space, 2. you could plug in headphones making it quieter. However, I now realize that I should have gotten an actual drum set instead. The electronic one has already gone through four sets of batteries, not from being used that much, but from being left on and forgotten. Also, it's just not as much fun, and so it hardly gets used.

The guitar is awesome, and both boys play it daily. Although, Nico yells at Lucas anytime he touches it, Lucas finds a way to get in some play time while Nico is distracted. I'm thinking soon we will be buying a second guitar, and a real drum set.

I have offered guitar lessons to the boys, but again they refused. They want to just play, and not be told what is and is not acceptable. The funny thing is, they're not half bad. The more they pick it up and play, the better they are getting, even with out any formal training. They are completely uninhibited when they play, and that makes all the difference.

***EDIT***

I forgot to mention, we have WII Music, which has introduced the boys to a whole host of instruments, and the sounds they make. I was amazed the other day when a commercial came on, and Nico accurately attributed the music in the background to cymbals. I wasn't real impressed with WII Music, but the boys love it, and play it often. Will it teach them how to play real instruments? No. But it has taught them a lot about music, sound and rhythm, and for that alone it was worth the money.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mirrors

Last night Nico noticed that images in mirrors are backwards. Well, he noticed the letters on his shirt were backwards in the mirror, and asked me why. I didn't have the perfect, scientific explanation for him, but I did my best.

First I told him that the light is reflected back at you in the same spot where it hits the mirror, which makes it appear backwards. I told him to go stand in front of the mirror and hold up his left hand, and his reflection would appear to be holding up its right hand. Of course he tried that, and then came back out and said no, my reflection was holding its left hand up too. So I had him stand facing me while holding up his left hand, and then said, now I am going to raise my left hand. When he saw that my left was on the opposite side of his left, when face to face, he understood, and checked the mirror again. Sure enough his reflection is holding up it's right hand.

Then I took a piece of paper and wrote his name on the top, and on the bottom wrote his name backwards, and had him hold that up to the mirror. In the mirror the name on top is backwards, while the one on the bottom is not. He thought it was awesome, how they seemed to switch places in the mirror.

A single question, a simple explanation, and a couple quick experiments, at close to midnight last night, and Nico now has a better understanding of the world around him.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finally old enough...



I felt like the boys were finally old enough to appreciate a trip to Kennedy Space Center. KSC is more like a museum than a theme park, and before now I didn't really see it appealing to the boys too much. But they had a great time today.

We arrived at 11:30, and started off our day by letting the boys get some energy out at the children's play dome. They climbed around, and went down slides, and made a new friend. Then we explored the Rocket Garden, before heading in to have lunch with Astronaut John Fabian.

I was a little disappointed with the lunch part of the experience. Half the water glasses on our table were dirty, and the food consisted of a pretty limited buffet. It was good food, but not much variety. Meeting John Fabian more than made up for it. He spoke to the group about his experiences, some of his personal heros, and climate change. Apparently, climate change is a pretty hot topic among those who have been to space, and have seen first hand the changes sweeping our planet.

Then he opened the floor to questions from the audience. Nico decided to ask not one, not two, but three questions. The first was "How far away are the satellites?" to which Mr. Fabian replied it depends on which satellites he meant. Spy satellites are a mere 100 miles up, but he couldn't reveal more than that. Nico's second question was "What is the difference between (being in) water and space." The answer is, there is still gravity and viscosity in water, but not in space. And Nico's final question was, "How long does it take to get to Pluto?" A probe was launched five years ago, and still has not reached it. So a long, long time.

After lunch, and a quick picture with John Fabian, we headed over to The Shuttle Launch Experience. Unfortunately Lucas was just an inch too short to ride, but he was able to watch from the observation room while Timmy and I took turns riding with Nico. It was a pretty realistic simulation, and Nico loved it.

We ventured into the Star Trek Live show, where Cadet Timmy was called up on stage to be scanned by a time-traveling Vulcan. Then after a quick ice cream stop, we headed in to watch Hubble 3D on IMAX. The images from the Hubble Telescope are breathtaking, and seeing them in 3D almost brought me to tears. But KSC needs to do a huge overhaul on the film. There were many black spots cropping up through out the movie, and at times it was difficult to watch.

Made a quick stop in the gift shop, where Nico picked out a t-shirt, and Lucas picked out a rocket/shuttle pack of toys, before departing.

The weather was perfect, the boys were engaging and well-behaved, and overall it was a wonderful day! I'm glad I decided to wait until they were a bit older before venturing into this territory, but now that I know they can handle it, I look forward to many more trips like this.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are video games replacing board games?

They are in my house.

It's not that my kids dislike traditional board games. In fact, while they were spending two months with my parents, they played board games all the time. Of course that was because there were no video games available.

I think it's mostly my fault. I dislike board games, in the sense that they have so many small pieces that get lost, and need to be set up. Video games are just easier, because everything is virtual. Turn it on, and go.

I do occasionally pull out the board games. I've taught the boys how to play chess and checkers. We've played Candyland, Chutes and Ladder, and Sorry. I even bought them some new games, Guess Who, Connect Four, and Operation along with a couple new card games, for Christmas. Those games have yet to be opened. But the new video games they got for Christmas have been put to good use.

It's not as though I turn on the video games to use as a babysitter either. We are a gaming family. There are many games I simply cannot play, or watch the boys play, because I get pretty bad motion sickness. Luckily there are many games where that is not an issue, and so we all play together. The time that families of yesteryear were gathered around the table with their board games, my family is spending gathered around the t.v. with controllers in our hands instead of dice.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Oakland Nature Preserve



We took a field trip this morning to the Oakland Nature Preserve with our home-school group. It included a three hour, guided tour. Despite the chilly weather, we had a fabulous time.

The tour started out along the boardwalk through the wetlands. Mr. Clay, our tour guide, explained that the boardwalk follows the flow of water. So whenever there is a twist or turn, it's because the water twists and turns on its way down hill toward the lake. Along the way, Mr. Clay stopped every so often to explain different parts of the wetlands to us. He explained that sometimes when trees die, they remain standing up right, and become homes to all kinds of animals and insects. Birds also use the trees to hide nuts and berries, so they can find them later when food becomes scarce.

We also learned that even though most of the plant life was brown and crinkly, it was not dead. Once warmer weather returns, those plants will spring back to life, and the wetlands will be lush and green once more.

Several trees were fallen over, and the kids asked if beavers were the culprits. As it turns out, the soft muddy ground, sometimes causes the trees to fall over on their own. When those trees threaten to fall across the boardwalk, people go in and cut the tree, so it will fall in the opposite direction. The fallen trees remain in place, so as they decay, they feed nutrients back into the habitat.

Off the boardwalk, was a path that led to a gazebo, outdoor classroom, and a great climbing tree. All the kids took turns climbing the tree, and jumping across the wooden benches where classes are taught. It turns out the person who owns the land beside the preserve, has the unusual hobby of raising exotic animals. So while we were on that side we peeked thru the fence and got to see a couple Emus prancing about.

Back on the boardwalk, we followed it around to Lake Apopka. Although there are several large alligators in the lake, we were not fortunate enough to spot any today. They were probably hiding away from the cold, not to mention the loud group of kids thundering about. We did spot a lot of white foam floating atop the surface of the lake. Mr. Clay explained that the foam was secreted by algae, because of the cold, and was perfectly normal.

Out of the wetlands, and closer to the visitor center, was a large area that was being restored to it's natural habitat, after spending several decades as an orange grove. We explored thru there for a bit, and that was where we spotted an owl, flying high in the trees. The owl spied down on us, while we came across a bush of beautyberries, which each child promptly picked and tried, after getting the go ahead from Mr. Clay. Beautyberries are small purple berries, sometimes made into wine or juice, but an abundance of sugar must be added to mask their somewhat bitter taste.

Back at the visitor center, Mr. Clay let the kids have an encounter with a snapping turtle, and a very friendly snake. They also got to explore a small museum, filled with some Florida historical artifacts, as well as native Florida wild life remains.

Lucas told me the snake was his favorite part of the trip, and Nico concurred, but also added that he had a lot of fun jumping across the benches at the outdoor classroom. Our group is talking about making this part of our monthly routine, and I couldn't be happier with that idea. In fact, before we even left, Nico was asking if we could return next month, when they have their new alligator pools finished.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mad Science


Yesterday we had our first Mad Science class with our home-school group. The boys have been looking forward to this once a month class, and were so excited to finally see what it is all about. Nico has been hoping for chemistry. He's been asking for a real chemistry set, with real chemicals, for over two years. I'm not ready to invest in something like that for him just yet, but someday.

This first class was not a chemistry class, but that didn't stop the boys from enjoying it. They explored magnification in several different ways. First the instructor held up a picture, in which all but a small square was covered and asked the class if they could guess what the bigger picture was. Most thought the tree was a butterfly, the pig was a bunny, and no one guessed correct with the apple.

Then she brought out these awesome hand held microscopes, and let the class view salt and pepper up close. After talking about mirrors, and how they reflect the light, and can be used to make multiple images like in a dressing room, she brought out the tabletop microscopes and several slides of bugs. The boys got to view a beetle, mosquito, various spiders, a scorpion, and a flea.

Also discussed was how bug eyes work, and how they see differently than people do. She brought out these little bug eyes (kaleidoscopes) that each child could use to see how bugs see. They took turns looking at different images, and looking around the room and imagining they were bugs flying about.

The class ended with a quick lesson on the colors of light. She brought out some rainbow glasses, which the kids all got to take home, that showed all the colors of light. She lit a candle, and used some flash paper, to let the kids view the brilliance of the flash, thru their glasses.

All in all, it was a great class, and I look forward to several more Mad Science classes in our future. video

Friday, January 7, 2011

Speaking and it's effects on spelling.

I spend a lot of time correcting my kids while they are speaking. Not just when they use the wrong word, but also when they mispronounce words. I have this theory that we write the way we speak, and we tend to spell words the way we say them. So if one constantly says blatter, instead of bladder they will always spell it incorrectly with out ever realizing they are doing it.

I'm not rude when I correct them. I don't interrupt them mid-sentence. Usually I repeat back what they just said, inserting the correction when I do. When I don't feel like being a parrot, I just correct the one word they used/said incorrectly. Like this morning Nico said "The dog just swinged me around.", and my reply was simply "Swung". Then he repeated "Swung" and we went on with our morning. No big deal, my kids are used to it, and take it in stride.

The nice part is I don't have to spend hours sitting them down and teaching them all the rules of past tense, and which words are exceptions to the rules. If they get corrected enough times, they will incorporate the exceptions on their own.

It's more difficult for me to correct Lucas on his pronunciation because of his early speech delays. I always assume he's trying to say it correctly, but is having trouble forming the correct sounds. After last night, I am reevaluating that assumption, and I will make more of an effort to get him to pronounce things correctly. I can't remember what we were talking about, but Lucas said the word crotch, only he said it more like quatch. Timmy and I were laughing, and commenting on how cute his little "accent" is, and trying to mimic the way Lucas had said it. After a bit Lucas jumps in and says "It's quatch with a 'q'." That's when it hit me, his mispronunciation isn't because he has difficulty saying the 'cr' combination, but because he actually thinks or hears 'cr' as 'q'. I immediately explained to him that it's actually crotch, with a 'cr' not a 'q'.

Although mispronunciations can be incredibly adorable, you are not doing your kids any favors by letting them continue.

(Side note, I always encourage my kids to speak in complete sentences using proper English, not slang. Again; I believe you write the way you speak, and if you speak using proper English, you will naturally write that way as well.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who needs thumbs?

Yesterday, Nico stated that he didn't think we really needed our thumbs. We talked a bit about what you could/could not do because of your thumbs, and I asked him if he wanted to try an experiment. Of course he did, so I taped his thumbs to his hand so he couldn't use them.

He only lasted about 20 minutes, before he was ready to remove the tape. He was able to write his name, although it was huge and took up half the paper. He was not able to hold the Playstation controller and effectively play. He didn't even want to attempt eating or drinking with out full use of his hands.

Nico thought it was a lot of fun trying ordinary things in a new way. This easy experiment gave him a greater appreciation of such a simple body part, and showed him how it makes our lives lots easier. He is eager to try it again.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What time is it?

Nico has been focusing on time for a while now. He wants to understand all aspects of time; days, weeks, months, years, hours, minutes, and seconds. He loved counting down the days until Christmas, and is now counting down the days until his birthday.

He's already asked about and understands all the basics, such as; How many days in a week/month/year? How many hours in a day? Minutes in an hour? Seconds in a minute? Now he is focusing on learning how to use that information. He is constantly looking at the clock, and watching how it changes throughout the day. Asking how long until his bedtime, or favorite t.v. show comes on? Nico is forever making statements about time, for example; It's 3 o'clock now, and in five hours it will be 8 o'clock. And he's starting to grasp the amount of time it takes to do certain things, such as; It takes 30 minutes to drive to Matthew's house, and 30 minutes to drive home, so we are out of the house for a full hour.

There is still a lot that he doesn't quite grasp. Like, why is Lucas's birthday first, even though he is older? I've tried explaining the cyclical nature of time, and that Lucas's birth came before the end of Nico's second year, but he just doesn't get it, yet. I'm sure given enough time to think it over, he will come to understand.