Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reading About Learning to Read: Homeschooling Bog Review

Blog reviews are one my favorite things to do because I get to talk about other peoples' cool stuff!  Learning to read was a common theme during the month of November.  There were suggestions of how to interest kids in reading without pushing reading; fears that society at large would never quit pushing reading; and 10 reasons why it's best to let kids learn to read at their own pace.

Kids learning to read at their own pace factored heavily in RedHeadedMom's post.  She suggests 10 reasons kids should be left alone to learn reading when, and how they'd like.  Many of the reasons focus on not causing undue stress and shame.

Unschooling the Kids provided a plethora of fun tips for enabling your kids to read at their own pace.  My favorite ideas were to ask your kid to read your emails to you, and to write things on the fridge that make them laugh.  Other ideas that have worked for us include frequent trips to the library, (our library has toys in addition to books) and leaving the subtitles on for all TV shows.

Finally, at Jitterberry, the author airs their unschooling fears with regards to the way reading is pushed not only in school, but in society at large.  What's at risk?  Among other things, a kid's right to the sense of accomplishment and discovery, as well as their sense of self-esteem.
“a child doesn’t grow into shame unless those they care about project it”

 All photos credited to their respective blogs, except that first one, that's all me :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We Made This: Roll Dough for Cinnamon Rolls/Christmas Tree!!!

My mom's cinnamon rolls have been a hit with my family and our friends for decades.  Every semester just before finals, my college dorm-mates and I eagerly awaited the arrival of a Banker's Box full of them.  Now, the kids and I have taken over the roll baking duties.  No. 1: 5 y.o., No. 2: 4 y.o., and No. 3: 1 y.o. all help with different steps of the baking process.  Today's post contains the steps for making the roll dough.  In future posts, I'll include instructions on how to use the dough to make cinnamon rolls and baked Christmas trees!

My payoff for writing this post:  As I outlined the baking steps below, I realized that the kids can almost completely take over this job!!!

1/2 cup of warm water
2 (1/4 ounce packet)s of yeast
1/2 cup of shortening cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs (the larger the egg, the more moist and sticky the dough)
7 - 7 1/2 cups of flour

Things the kids help with:
Step 1:  Set the milk out to let it come to room temperature
If you get started late, you can always put the milk on top of a warm oven to help it reach room temperature more quickly.

Things the kids help with:
Step 2:  Grease the rising bowl
I know some people who use olive oil so the dough won't stick to the bowl it rises in.  I prefer butter.

Things the kids help with:
Step 3:  Place a half cup of warm water in the mixing bowl, and dump in the yeast.  Stir the mixture with a fork until all the yeast is dissolved.  It'll make a murky pool.  If you use Red Star yeast, it'll smell like beer.
Let the mixture sit for about five minutes to give the yeast time to perk up.
Yeast science from Good Eats!:

Things the kids help with:
Step 4:  chop up the shortening with butter knives
I like to cut the shortening into little cubes before I put it in the mixer.  I'm not sure if this helps at all, but there you have it.

Things the kids can help with:
Step 5:  Dump in the sugar, the shortening, the milk, the eggs, the salt, and half the flour
A few months ago, No. 1, and No. 2 got promoted to egg breaking duties.  They love it!

Things that I don't let the kids help with
Step 6: Mix until smooth, then gradually mix in the rest of the flour half a cup at a time, once again mixing until smooth.  I can usually get in 7 cups of flour.  Occasionally, I can mix in all 7.5 cups, (mostly when I use jumbo eggs).  When the dough is smooth and elastic, and additional flour doesn't mix into the dough, you're done.

I don't let the kids do this step yet, because I shortcut the processor by using a mixer with a dough hook.  I'm worried the mixer might injure them since I have to fight the dough at the end, so I don't let them do this.

However: The original recipe called for hand kneading the dough to add the rest of the flour.  If your kids have the patience, (it takes at least five minutes of strenuous kneading), then they can pull off the whole thing!

Things the kids help with:
Step 6: Set the dough in the rising bowl.  Then, if you live in a cool climate like we do, set the bowl either in or on a warmed up oven.  I prefer on.  The in part makes me nervous ever since my mom melted down a Tupperware bowl in the oven when I was a kid.  I started with our oven at about 155, and slowly worked my way up to 185.  The heat was enough to make the dough happy so it would rise, but at the same time not toast it.

Things the kids help with:
Step 7: Cover the dough, and wait for it to rise.  After an hour, punch the dough down, flip it over, and adjust your oven (just in case it was getting too warm on the bottom).  Our kids love the punching down part!  Wait another hour, and your dough should look like this

And now, we've arrived at the part where you can take two different paths.  You can make cinnamon rolls, the traditional crowd-pleaser, or you can make 'Christmas Tree', our once a year, 'eat it during the parades' Thanksgiving treat.  Christmas Tree is the easier of the two.  I'll cover both of them soon!

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Value of Shared Experiences

Then, there was silence except for No. 2's small singing voice pleasantly crooning along...

We made cinnamon rolls a few nights ago.  It's a fun time with the kids helping, but there's always a bit of a ruckus over taking turns.  They help roll out dough, or break the eggs, or mix up the cinnamon sugar.  Our youngest no. 3 has just become mobile enough to help.  She's also just reaching the age where it seems like throwing a fit might be the way to get things changed when they don't go her way.

No. 2 and 3 had just finished helping put cinnamon rolls in the pan.  No. 3, as I've mentioned before, takes in everything.  While placing rolls in the baking pan, she apparently also noticed that her brother No. 2 was mixing the cinnamon sugar.  I told them all that we were done helping, and it was time to go play again.  No. 3 pointed at the cinnamon sugar mix, and began to scream.  There were a dozen different ways I could have defused the moment.  I, for example,  could have just given her a turn while I supervised, (left unsupervised, she was going to woof all the sugar down).  I didn't though.  Chalk it up to a bad dad moment, but No. 3's fit continued.  She wandered from the kitchen to the living room screaming at the top of her lungs.  Wow, WOW! is No. 3 loud!

Then, out of nowhere, No. 2 walked up to No. 3, and started singing Itsy Bitsy Spider.  No. 3 slowed down her screams, sniffled for a bit, and then?  Then, there was silence except for No. 2's small singing voice pleasantly crooning along for no. 3!

I grinned from ear to ear!  The irony is that up until a few months ago, No. 2 was our premiere fit thrower.  He's slowly been winding down his fits, developing coping habits.  Now, instead of throwing a fit, he'll usually sigh heavily, walk to his room, and about five minutes later return.  Sometimes, he even wants to talk it out!  I was bracing for another few years of fits from No. 3, and I still expect we'll have them, but how awesome is it that No. 2, our biggest fit thrower to date is now our biggest helper in making them end?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Doom Patrol and Our Dada Adventures

Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced an uptick in the number of “Unschooling?  How does that work?” questions while out and about with the kids .  +Sue Elvis  posted a great example of how unschooling works for her family, and made a very apt rabbit hole analogy.  As a fun  example of exactly how homeschooling works for us, here’s one of our own rabbit holes annotated with the various school subjects that were covered as we pursued it.  You’ll find a topic or two, networking for example, that don’t fit into a traditional school curriculum at all.

No. 1 and I have been reading Doom Patrol.  Saturday night, we noticed a reference to Hannah Höch in the comic book.  Topics: Reading, Reading Comprehension, Art Appreciation

Turns out, Hannah Höch was a famous Dada artist.  Dada, an art movement founded in 1916, gave birth to the surrealists.  Doom Patrol is very surreal in both its story, and art.  For example, the story involves a door in the shape of a mouth.  To get through the door, the main character had to know a password.  Topics: Art History, Writing

San Francisco happened to be having a city-wide festival to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Dada.  No. 1 and I were aware of this because we hang out at a library where one of the events was hosted.  Topics: Networking

We missed the library's event.  No problem.  The Saturday we discovered Dada was day 12 of the 13 day festival.  We still had a day left to get in on the fun.  We chose two of the remaining events to attend.  The first was Dada@Sea where a large Dada barge was supposed to be sent out to sea.  No. 1 is very interested in boats and has wanted to ride on a boat for quite some time, so this one seemed like a natural.  The second event was a ‘secret’ closing party for the festival.  To get in, you had to go to a specific location, (a beat poetry book shop in town), and say a specific phrase, (a password!): "May I have a slip of paper please?"

On Sunday morning, No. 1 and I diligently made our way across town to Dada@Sea.  There wasn't a barge, but there was a rowboat made by one of the artist's high school classes.  There was also a fascinating old-school deep sea diving helmet. Topics: Geography, Science

 No. 1 was entranced by parts of the art presentation, (e.g. when the artist jumped into the bay wearing a business suit and the diving helmet), and bored by others, (e.g. the speeches).  She shouted a warning to the artist as he went into the water, “Make sure to shut the door on the diving helmet!”  After the artists made their outdoor speech, and headed indoors for more presentations, No. 1 wanted to stay outside to watch the waves.  We did.  Topics: Art appreciation, Nature

A conversation ensued about actually riding boats, and when that would ever happen.  This turned into a conversation about the importance of building a network of folks who actually had boats.    No. 1 decided we should go inside to watch the rest of the presentations.  Topics: Communication, Socialization

At the end of the presentations, one of the artists asked if anyone wanted to go for a ride in the rowboat.  No. 1's hand shot up!!!  10 minutes later, we were on a small wobbling, (thanks to us), rowboat in the bay!  Networking does work! :)  Topics: Networking, Physical Education

Next, we headed to the bookstore where we were to retrieve the location of the party.  We delivered the password, and after some confusion, were given the slips of paper revealing where the party was.  Oh, and we found our own surreal door!  Topics: Communication, Art Appreciation, Art Interpretation, Geography

After our heady boat ride, and undercover party location mission, lunch was in order.  No. 1 ordered for us, and had a brief conversation with our waitress who is new, but had noticed we’re kind of regulars there.  As we ate lunch, we agreed that we'd split the party duties.  No. 1 would deliver the slip of paper to the person at the door, and if we needed to pay to get in, I'd pay.  Topics: Communication, Socialization

With lunch under our belts, we headed out for the party, (which we knew nothing about but the location).  We missed our stop by about 3 blocks.  No. 1 reminded me that I'm always encouraging the kids to walk, and proposed that we run back to the correct stop.  Off we went.  Topics: Geography, Physical Education

Arriving at the location, we found an unmarked warehouse with an open door.  No. 1 presented the slip of paper.  I made the suggested donation.  We gained admittance!  Topics: Communication, Socialization

Annndddd... Robots!!!  Lots, and lots of robots!  The party was hosted by a local artist who does kinetic sculptures.  No. 1 was the first kid on the scene.  The artist quickly took her under his wing, and showed her every exhibit in the warehouse!  (more socialization and networking).  Topics: Art Appreciation, Engineering, Socialization, Communication

Finally, exhausted, and with the sun setting on us in an unfamiliar part of town, we headed home the back way through our park that we'd never taken before.  On the bus, No. 1 asked for the phone.  She used it to track our progress until we got to our park which she recognized both because of the dot on the map, and because of the forest surrounding us.  Topics: Geography

And that, in a not so small nutshell is what we do with unschooling.  We pursue interests that we come across in life.  These lead to a variety of school topics, some of which don’t exist in most schools.  Then, we do the whole thing all over again, accumulating bits of knowledge here and there as we go.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Unschooling with Cartoons and Comic Books Doom Patrol Style

 *Spoilers lie below*
Our oldest kid, 5 y.o., No. 1, tried a few weeks of public kindergarten before she decided she missed the outings with her sibs and homeschool buddies.  During her brief stint in kindergarten her teacher mentioned that reading out loud and comprehension were two different things.  I'm still not sure I believe this entirely, but we started trying to be more mindful with respect to comprehension... just in case.

For us, reading comprehension amounts to sitting around discussing the books we're reading.  My wife and I read comic books, and if they're not violent we leave them laying around the house where the kids can reach them.  Similarly, we both enjoy reading the kids' comics that they pick out.  This shared reading material pool has led to really fun reading comprehension discussions.

A few weeks ago after Doom Patrol #2 came out, the kid and I wound up discussing it at the kitchen table.   The comic book is loosely connected to one of our kids' favorite cartoons, Teen Titans.  (For those not in the know, Beast Boy, a member of the Teen Titans, was originally a member of Doom Patrol).

In short,I found out that No. 1 is definitely retaining what she reads, and also that she's taking in way more of the details of what she reads than I do.  The cool part:  I hoped to help her with reading strategies, (and maybe I did a little), but what I'm psyched about are the cool things in the comic books I'd completely missed that No. 1 pointed out.  The highlights of our conversation follow:

No. 1: "Who's this guy?"

"That's negative man, you remember from the Teen Titans?"

"That's not Negative Man. That looks nothing like him."

"'Cause he's not wearing all the bandages?"

"Uhhh, yeah!"

Turning to the page with the negative men statues featuring the bandaged mummy wrapped look, "How about this?"

"Yeah, that looks like Negative man. Why doesn't it look like Negative Man in the other places?"

"Look at the last page of #2. What's it have on it?"

"A parade with a bunch of toys."

"What if it's all happening in a little boy's imagination? Would that make sense of all the differences?"

"Yeah, that would make sense.... It says it's Danny Land!" No. 1 grabs the first Doom patrol issue, and flips through the pages. "Look at this!" She shows me a frame featuring a character screaming "Danny!!!" near a pile of bricks.

This is followed by several minutes of finding other Danny references in the two issues.

I then mention that it makes sense of Robot Man's brain being in a cat dish if it's all pretend. A discussion ensues as to whether the cat is drinking water, or merely licking Robot Man. This is followed by a more heated discussion about whether the garbage truck hit Robot Man, or he attacked it.

No. 1: "He staggered out of the alley, and hit the garbage truck."

"Hunh, that could've happened, but how'd his leg get under the side if he hit it?

"He hit it so hard that his leg flew up, and then fell under."

"What if the truck had swoosh lines? Then would it have hit him?"

"Yeah, then it would be moving, and it would have hit him. See, it's not, so he hit it."

Our focus on the garbage truck leads to yet another DannyLand revelation:

"Oh my gosh! Look what's in the back of the truck!"


A few minute discussion of foreshadowing and the big DannyLand reveal at the end of #2 ensues.

The kid then flips over to a meeting of 'space aliens,' and points out that the people in business suits are the "same kind of aliens that attacked Robot Man," something I hadn't put together. She then notices that the product they're talking about is Danny Burger.

All this is capped off by a bit more page flipping, and finally finding a brick in the last scene of #1 with the name Danny scratched into it.

So, to tally everything up:
What I learned:
  1. There are way more references to Danny in Doom Patrol in #1, and #2 than I had realized.
  2. Comic books, and cartoons are awesome tools for building reading comprehension, and retention
  3. Swoosh lines make all the difference.
What the kid and I got to discuss:
  1. psychedelic and surreal art
  2. foreshadowing
  3. puzzles hidden in books
This unschooling stuff is awesome!