Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magical Fairy Houses

A while back I was inspired by a blog in which a mom mentioned how her kids often build fairy houses when out in nature, from various earthly treasures such as sticks and stones and pine cones.  Ian loves collecting these treasures, especially during fall.  One boring rainy day, we got out a hot glue gun and created a fairy house that he keeps in his playroom to admire daily. Ian spent the day with his Nonnie yesterday and she received a tip on how there was a fairy exhibit at an art museum in nearby CT. At first glance on the website, I didn't think it sounded that great and almost skipped it in exchange for a day by myself.  But then I changed my mind and decided to go. We had so much fun building a fairy house together and I wanted to have this experience with Ian.

It turned out to be a truly special place.   When we arrived, we were given little jingly bracelets so as to warn the fairies that we were approaching their homes.  We followed a fairy map and examined exquisite little houses built into the natural landscape surrounding the art museum.   It was an autumn wonderland of falling colorful leaves.  The museum overlooks a river. The view was stunning.  

The tour ended in a maple grove where children were encouraged to build their own fairy houses.  Ian and I spent a good deal of time perfecting our contribution to this interactive exhibit. I will admit that as a mother I often struggle with the guilt that comes with that I really don't enjoy playing all that much. My adult mind isn't as easily amused
with moving cars around. But fairy houses bring out the kid in me. This isn't something I had ever even heard of until the blog I read.
But sitting down and finding beauty in twigs, pebbles, and acorns and then creating a magical space in which fairies live is something I find so appealing. Ian and I work together, discus
s the design, search for building materials and then create.  I love experiences that are meditative by allowing me to be engaged fully in the pre
sent blissful moment.

The fairy exhibit is at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT.  It runs until November 1.  It is free admission for children under 12. Adult admission is $14 and worth every penny.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Little Entrepreneur

A few weeks ago, Ian and I were wandering around Ocean State Job Lot. My go-to place on very desperate, long rainy days when we just need to go somewhere to be out of the house.  At the check-out, Ian noticed a set of colorful pinking shears. He desperately wanted the "special scissors."   I explained that I didn't have money for them in an effort to ward off an all out meltdown.  He choked back tears and listened, so I kept talking. I told him he could have the scissors if he could figure out how to get some money to buy them. By the time we go to the car, he told me he wanted to sell ice tea at our upcoming yard sale in 2 weeks.  We discussed the business plan and after considering all the possible beverage possibilities, he decided on apple cider.

We talked about his first business frequently. He inquired as to when we were getting the cider and when the yard sale would be. He told everyone he was going to sell apple cider so he could buy  "special" scissors.  As the time drew closer, we counted the coins in his short-term (truck) savings bank. He had just under $3.00.  The scissors cost $4.00.  We spent time talking about coins and counting coins.  I considered going full-force with a real business model in which he was going to have to cover his own overhead, but as the time of the yard sale grew closer I realized I didn't have the time or energy to get into all that. I rationalized that the lesson would be over his head anyway to partly relieve my guilt on this shortcut. In retrospect I wish I had done it all the way, so as to not set a precedent. 

A few days before he worked on his letters as he colored and wrote out his own display.   The day before the sale we bought the cider and cups. I was happy to contribute the initial capital to a young start-up. We gathered his table, chair, and other necessities for his cider stand.  He repeatedly reminded me that he was in charge of the cider.  I was mighty impressed with his desire to own this operation.

The morning of the yard sale came. He set up his table. I plugged in the crock pot and poured the cider in and that pretty much concluded my contribution to his business. And then, 
Ian. Sold. Cider.  
He didn't sit passively, looking cute and hoping for someone to ask. He has his Dad's marketing skill. Asking nearly every yard sale patron if they wanted some cider, most couldn't resist.  Slowly and carefully, Ian served his cider. Everyone got "three dumps" from the ladle.  It was a bargain at $.25/cup.  In retrospect, I really did him a disservice at that price point because 2 days later I spent $3.00 for an identical cup of cider at Mystic Seaport. 

The next day we excitedly counted out his earnings. He earned about $5.00. With his short term savings, he had about $8.00 in total.  He asked if we could go to get his scissors on the way to Grammy's house. And this is when he melted my heart.  My thoughtful, sweet, generous son told me he wanted to get a pair of scissors for his cousin Natalie too. When I asked him why, he said because he thought she would like them. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I quickly gave him his $1.00 allowance to bring him to $9.00.  I gave him a basic explanation of what sales tax is and he understood that he would need just over $8.00 to buy 2 pairs of special scissors. We agreed that the remaining coins would go into his long-term (dinosaur) savings bank. 
At the store, he navigated right over to the check out counter waited patiently for his turn at the counter.  Just over 2 weeks since the birth of his desire for the scissors, he bought them with the money he earned himself for that very purpose.  He was so proud!  I really admire his patience and commitment to running his cider business to get what he wanted, but I am most proud of his generous spirit. 

This was a great educational experience to guide him on. I can't wait to see this business model develop in complexity and depth as he matures and we get deeper in our home study.  So many lessons are included and with this project; art, business, math, marketing, research, writing, spelling, accounting and more.  It embodied many of the reasons I am attracted to homeschooling. Real-life, well-rounded, interactive learning using multiple skills. And it was fun too.  He is already planning his next beverage stand with lemonade and ice tea.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Natural Education

We've long been contemplating the benefits of a homeschool education for Ian. It does seem to be the direction we are heading for him.  As part of his education, we will participate in outside class situations as well, so pre-school is possibly on the horizon for him as well, though there is really only one that seems to embody my parenting and educational philosophies for a young child, in that it does not involve academics in any formal way.  Perhaps next year, as he is on the wait list for the program that is 2 mornings a week.   In order to get him into the practice of being away from me for short periods, I have tried a music class, and a musical story hour. Neither of them seem to appeal to him.  

Then, one day a few weeks ago he told us he wanted to be a Farmer when he grows up. He wants to sell cucumbers and tomatoes at a farmers market.  There is a beautiful organic farm in nearby CT that offers a pre-school program 2 mornings a month. So far, he has shown tremendous interest in the idea that he is going to go learn how to be a farmer, so we are signing him up.  I think that will fulfill the space (within me) that believes in order to be well rounded as a homeschooler, he should be ok with short periods learning from someone else. That's my thing and for now, I'm sticking to it.

During this time at home he has shown a natural affinity to animals and I am a strong believer in teaching him about the natural world as much as possible. To me, this would be the strongest back-bone in any education.  A love and appreciation for natural laws starting at a very early age seems to be the most instinctual way to facilitate his learning.  

This instinct seems to be in sync with Ian.  Yesterday, we visited our friend Kelly and her son Jack (11),  who is one of Ian's favorite people in the whole wide world.  They had creatively used a stack of magazines to create ramps to jump cars over.  When it was clean up time, Ian carried in a stack of the magazines; National Geographic. He asked if we could take them home to read.  At first I resisted (for some reason), but then Kelly pointed out that he would probably really like the beautiful photography.  I noticed that he had picked out 6 or so issues with animals on the cover. So I agreed.

He was so excited last night to "read" his magazines before bed.  Snuggled in my bed, we flipped through. I stuck mostly to captions of the photos to explain them.  He was so intrigued! The first issue was about wolves. In that one, it depicted how they were hunting a moose how they battled, and ultimately shared the kill, with a bear family.  I was thrilled with how much learning went on, from this layout of photos, we talked about the circle of life, natural selection (how wolves hunting moose keep both the wolves and the moose populations healthy),  and why wolves no longer live in our area and how there are now a lot of deer. This led into a discussion of how and why predators like wolves don't live here. He was introduced to the concept of a gun for the first time.  That was a scary moment for me at first, however I am so deeply grateful that *I* was the person who taught him what a gun was. It did not come from any TV show, movie, or another child.  In that explanation, I am hoping to lay the seeds of how much respect he should have for them.  With the understanding of what they do, he agreed that they are not toys.

What I have found most amazing about him is how when presented with any information that involves the natural order of things, including reproduction, hunting, and killing he accepts that information without fear.  Photos of wolves killing a moose intrigue him, but an animated scene of animal characters acting out the same thing scare him.  It seems that his little being accepts nature in all its extremes more readily than something fabricated in the human mind. He knows truth innately and responds well to honesty and directness in my explanations.  Two National Geographic magazines gave birth to a 45 minute learning space in the snuggled warmth of my bed.   

Yes, I think homeschool will work really well for us!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ages and Stages

I'm intrigued by how Ian flows from one age and stage to the next as I observe him growing up.  There seems to be a definite shift in his development every so often. For three years I have noticed it about 2 months before his birthday in late November, with every other year being a little bit challenging followed by about a year of relative peace.  To put it another way, if he were the stock market, he has an up year with its minor fluctuations, followed by a down year with its more erratic fluctuations.  He flows from a docile "bull" to an angry "bear" and back again.

His first year, infanthood, was wonderful. In spite of a very rough patch from 2-6 weeks as we settled into a comfortable nursing relationship and his refusal to sleep for any length of time until he was 9 months old, overall I enjoyed it. I love infants with all their cuddliness.  As he passed his first birthday we entered into a more difficult several months.  I found 12-18 months to be extremely trying on us, when he was in the "I know what I want but can't verbalize it well" period.  He got frustrated. I got frustrated.  Around 18 months,  we started to see some glimmers of light on the horizon.  In the September before his 2nd birthday there was a shift into curious toddler as he entered the Fabulous Twos.

Two was such a great age. Full of curiosity and exploring, mimicking and following, but still very baby-like so everything was all just so cute.  Especially that little baby voice trying so hard to express himself.  Two was a pleasure all the way to the September before he turned 3.

Three has been a similar to the market that crashed around the same time.  All of a sudden he realized he didn't HAVE to listen and testing it became pretty much the norm.  The need to get attention became an art form and keeping my attention constantly, was on his daily agenda. The tantrums, when they happened, took a turn from frustration with a twist of desperation to an unleashing of anger, sometimes physically. I heard the words. "You are a mean mom" and "I don't like you" a few times. He's beaten his door with blunt objects and thrown things. Trying to bully and force his way with us and with friends was something he was trying out for a while.  Screaming demands, melting down,  and showing physical rage when upset was also something he experimented with to see how much reaction he could get. We've been those people in the grocery store.  The ones with the screaming kid at the check out line that pre-parentally we would have judged and ridiculed for not handling our child "correctly."  After being that mother more than once, I realized what is the right response for me and my son might be totally different than best response for another mother and child.  

About 6 weeks after his third birthday I concluded that I was now in the worst period of our relationship to date.  It was long. Then in about June, some glimmers of hope started to appear. A calmness and maturity. An ability to entertain himself started to happen more often.

Now, here we are two months before his fourth birthday and I am seeing a significant flow from testing the rules to living within them peacefully.  He loves to create, to "read" (he pretends to read by telling a story from the pictures), to explore, ask questions, and more often than not he behaves very well. As I have gotten to know him as a person, I realize he is a lot like me. He requires a full, detailed explanation before he'll be agreeable.  He is not a child that is ok with "I said so."  I never was either, so I understand this.  For example, he often attempts to distract me in the car by wanting this or that.  I explain that I can't get it, it is dangerous. That's not enough. He continues pestering.  For months this went on. I progressed to having to tell him we might get in an accident if I try to pick up a car off the floor behind me while driving. This reasoning is probably enough for most children his age. Not Ian.  So I explain in more detail, that we could get into a car accident and have to go to the hospital.  The asking and pestering continued for more months.  I tried this explanation a few weeks ago and he said, "You always say that" and then went on asking for whatever he dropped.  "You can reach it" he encouraged. Finally, I laid it out for him.  What EXACTLY might happen if we crashed the car.  We talk about life and death and all natural processes with him regularly so it was not unfamiliar but when I explained that we could die and not be together anymore if I was not a careful driver he replied, "Ok, Mom" and the backseat requests stopped.  Part of me was afraid I might have scarred him for life with that kind of blatant honesty and I wondered what kind of awful mom would say something like that to a 3 year old... That's when I realized he was like me. He needs a complete and thorough understanding of all the consequences before making his own decision in his best interest.  And the answer needs to resonate with him for him to concede and agree.  Wow, do I respect that about him, but boy does that make parenting more of a task for us!  Now if he asks me to fetch a cracker he dropped while on the highway and I say, "remember what I told you might happen if I am not a careful driver?" He instructs me that I should pull over and stop first.....

He's such a little boy now and its fun to have conversations with him about things, aside from the morose.  He loves to talk (and talk and talk and inquire and talk...)  It feels like 3 was about setting the standard of acceptable behavior and he had to test and check every which way to make sure there were no loopholes. It was exhausting as his parent but it seems like maybe we are entering into a period of peaceful at four.......and then will come five.