Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Monthly Kits for Kids

There are many subscription kit options for kids. We've recently tried kits from Groovy Lab, Tinker Crate and Doodle Crate  - all of which we purchased.

Groovy Lab is advertised for ages 8+, Tinker Crate is for ages 9-14+ and Doodle Crate for ages 9-16+. 

The price lowers with each increase in length of subscription, but basically on a month to month basis you are looking at $25 for Groovy Labs and $20 for each Doodle and Tinker Crates.

We ordered two single labs to try from Groovy.

The first Groovy Lab we tried was the bird lab. There was a booklet discussing types of feeders, where to look up info on regional birds in your area, it had the kids set out a bird bath (bowl of water) and track bird visits to their yard, it talked about bird beaks, the kids made a cardboard 3D bird feeder, popsicle stick porch swing bird feeder, and at the end there was a bird feeder design challenge. 

Supplies were also included for the tube feeder it shows in the beginning, but it didn't suggest making one or explain how to. We made one anyway. The supplies were every day materials you likely have around the house. There could have been more hands on, such as make your own birdbath instead of simply filling the supplied small plastic bowl with water or making a birdhouse. 

My son found the bird feeder design challenge limiting and instead wanted to make a large platform feeder out of PVC and corrugated plastic. 

The instructions for the cardboard and popsicle stick feeders called for using the generic white glue that was included, but takes forever to dry. The booklet suggests paper clipping things together while they dry. My son found this extremely frustrating, a hot glue gun worked much better.

The second Groovy Lab we tried was hydroponics. 

One project was a hanging garden in which had four pages of instructions on how to cut and mark the strings to hang the cups. My son found this way too wordy and unclear. Then it had  him use a push pin to make holes for the string. The hemp was thicker than the size of a push pin hole so it frayed when he tried to push it through.

Another thing they had as a project seemed like busy work. It was to cut the top of an empty plastic water jug (not included) so it could be opened and shut and put water in there so you weren’t running back to the sink for more water. 

He started some wheat grass in a petri dish and a bean stalk in a test tube, added water to water beads and crystals - wow? 

There are three other projects we haven’t gotten to from that box. We ran out of hemp because the directions were confusing and we cut it wrong. We didn’t have enough cups (were 2 short) and have other supplies we aren't sure when they are to be used. 

Overall we found Groovy Labs to be very poorly written and designed. The projects were okay, but nothing we couldn't have found similar on Pinterest for free. The booklet didn't really add to it for us. The supplies were cheap. Both labs would have been a better fit at ages 4-8 than 8+. 

We also had a problem with our order in that we received two of the same kits instead of two different kits. They were both addressed to someone else, but inside another box addressed to us. 

We have tried three Tinker Crates: Animation, Motor, and Draw Bot.

Tinker Crates include a tinkerzine magazine that points out the science that goes along with the project, extension, and background information. It's much meatier than the Groovy box booklet. The materials are a much higher quality. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. The projects have all worked very well so far. There is more flexibility with the projects to customize it and make it your own instead of everyone who received that kit ending up with a look alike project as with Groovy Lab. The projects have been much more engaging to the point of being excited to see what comes in the next kit.

The Animation kit included:
- Tinker Zine magazine with an animation theme
- Seeing with your brain - learning the science behind how you see things
make a Thaumatrope - 2 ways to do so, try the supplied templates (several to choose from for both boys and girls), then experiment with making your own.  
- How a Zoetrope works, with the main project being making one, again with supplied templates, several to choose from, to see how it works, then making your own. 
- History of Animation - 4 pages
- Flip book movie - make one using included template, then draw your own
- movie magic - stop motion animation history, how to make one, ideas for animation

My kids had tried making a Zoetrope previously, but it did not work nearly as well as the one then made with their Tinkercrate. 

With the tinker crate the supplies are only included for the big project, then the smaller spin off projects use easy to find things or parts from the main project. 

We have had three Doodle Crates: Sculpting, Stamp Carving, and Basketweaving. There is not a magazine included in these, but instead a small pamphlet that links video instruction, a book to learn more, etc. There were enough materials for two of my kids to try all three kits, with little modification such as the Sculpting set only had one base, the older child didn't use a stand with his. There were three basket templates included in the basketweaving and enough t-shirt yarn and Kool Aid for them to select from and dye their own shades of yard. The stamp carving material was wonderful, this was another project we had tried before, but having quality materials really did make a difference. The only suggestion from my 13 y/o was with the basketweaving, he was not sure why the templates were not plastic instead of cardboard, which would have made them a bit sturdier. 

The Doodle Crates are pretty much one project compared with a main project, then several smaller ones in the Tinker Crates. However, the supplies included in the doodle crates cost more. 

This brings me to another point, I have boys. I wasn't sure if the doodle crates would be too girly. They do give you an option of selecting your child's gender for the crate and have done a great job of sending neutral colors. 

We will be continuing the Tinker and Doodle Crates. I wish they offered a sibling or multiple crate discount. Even at $40 a month (for both kits) to have half a dozen new projects to do that will actually work and allow us to explore new materials and concepts without having to search for them and gather supplies makes it worth it for our family. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Your child's interest can form the basis of a most excellent education.

In this blog piece Karen Hollis shares her daughter’s unconventional journey to college. 

My daughter has always had a strong desire to control her own education.  While I was completely happy with this during her younger years, when she hit high school I began to Be Very Afraid: my daughter’s interests did not extend to AP courses, “leadership” roles, competitive sports; she loved music but due to dyspraxia she cannot play an instrument or keep a rhythm.  She did not have an entrepreneurial turn of mind.  She didn’t make things.  She’s not an artist.  She didn’t publish a scientific research paper.  In other words, she didn’t have any of the things we are used to thinking that colleges consider mandatory accomplishments during the high school years, without which a student will be at an enormous competitive disadvantage.

The end result: she applied to twelve schools, because I was so worried about how her unconventional education would look to admissions reps. The schools ranged from the fairly laid back (Lewis and Clark) to the rigorous and demanding Reed) to the exclusive and elite (Williams, Carnegie Mellon).  She was accepted at seven with scholarships of up to $100,000 – four colleges hit this figure – put on the priority wait list at Carnegie Mellon, waitlisted at two other places.  Only two turned her down outright.

What was more astonishing was that nearly all the colleges included handwritten notes from the director admissions commenting on her creativity and imagination, saying these things would be a tremendous contribution to their college.

So what did she do?  Her high school years were entirely self-initiated, self-constructed, and eclectic.  She taught herself math through calculus using textbooks, and Latin through a third year, but other than that, high school was interest-based and looked nothing like regular school.

Mostly, she read.  Her book list, which I uploaded to the Common App as a separate transcript, was six pages long and was selected, not inclusive.  Her application essay talked about the characters in her head, who they were, what books they came from, why they attracted her so much, how she heard them wittily remarking on events around her, how she would draw on them when she wrote her own book some day.  

She wrote when she felt compelled.  In ninth grade she wrote lots of fan fiction, then nothing for nearly all of tenth.  She kept a commonplace quotation notebook (as did I), with nearly 100 pages of quotes.  She wrote responses to literature in the voice of characters from the book, or a disgruntled author.  Yet because of all our discussion and because she had read so widely, when she took community college classes that required formal essays, she had no problems whatever.

My daughter became a theater fanatic at about age seven and we had long scrounged for cheap tickets at amateur theaters and preview nights; by high school, we were subscribers (still to the cheapest seats) at several local theaters.  She read theater journals, researched online, read theater history; we attended sessions at theaters by designers and directors; she toured theaters in our home town as well as in London, where she went on a highly anticipated week-long trip while her dad went to a conference there.  She toured the recording studios of Digital Theatre Live and watched them editing a filmed performance.  We went to filmed performances from London that showed in local theaters.  By the time she finished high school, she’d seen over 175 plays, ranging from community college and amateur theaters to London’s West End.  She’d read over 75 play scripts and seen nearly 100 more plays on film or made into movies.  

Through theater we got into history (events plays were based on, history of theater, history of certain productions, history of acting styles, economic and social histories surrounding plays, history of costume design).  We talked about some themes, such as the difference between historical and narrative “truth,” for months on end.  We compared performances, watched the same play (on film or on stage) with different actors and directors, and talked about it some more.  

Once she was old enough to take community college classes (16), she took a series of acting classes, which she absolutely adored although her dyspraxia put her at an enormous disadvantage.  She also took classes in narrative theory, plays made into films, and one biology class (just to show she could make a non-mommy-given A in science).  She joined a 9-person group which toured area high schools performing short scenes.  She auditioned for, but was not cast in, the community college plays.  

In my counselor letter for the Common App I talked about her courage in pursuing this aspect of theater, which would always be a problem for her due to her dyspraxia issues and her social anxiety.  The school that offered her the highest scholarship specifically mentioned her perseverance in the face of difficulty.  

She had not a single AP class, no courses from a four-year university.  She didn’t enter or win any contests.

What she did do was demonstrate very clearly that she loved to read, responded with her whole being to literature – not just academically, that she loved theater, more than anything in the world, and that she was passionately committed to furthering her knowledge in those areas, to the point of risking failure and embarrassment due to her dyspraxia in the trying.  She showed a mindset of willingness to take risks, of being able to structure and determine what she wanted to learn and how she wanted to go about learning it.  

There were so many times that I panicked because she wasn’t “doing anything” with her interests; this was because I was only looking at them in the narrow, limited framework of what schools require.  But by allowing her to pursue her interests in her own way and at her own pace, I ended up with a college applicant who impressed admissions committees with her discipline, breadth and range of knowledge, willingness to attempt difficult things, and strong sense of purpose.  Colleges do value these things, and as their written comments to her indicate, she stood out precisely because she showed these in unusual ways, ways colleges are not used to seeing in AP-laden kids with tons of outside structured extra-curriculars.  There is not a thing wrong with those things if the student loves them, is challenged by them, and pursues them with engagement.  But equally, they are not the only path to college admissions by any means.  Following passions, no matter how unconventional or non-academic they seem at the time, can get young adults to exactly the same desirable places that other kids spend all of high school nose to grindstone trying to achieve, with all the attendant pressure and stress.  

My daughter had a stress-free high school education in which she grew in confidence and self-knowledge due to following her passionate interests, and this is something I value much more highly than her string of acceptances.

I want to encourage all parents out there who are worried sick about college admissions to trust a bit more in the fact that their child’s keen interests can demonstrate, as much or more than AP’s or contests, the very qualities that colleges search for and value.  It may not seem that way because colleges word what they are looking for after what schools do and teach, and homeschooled kids can do things very differently.  But the underlying qualities – curiosity, the search for knowledge, immersion in a field of interest, seeking out or creating opportunities for further learning, questioning conventional wisdom – these are all qualities that can stand out no matter what your child’s particular interest is, and can form the basis of a most excellent education. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Trim and Tall Men's Clothing

It is very challenging to find affordable clothing that fits the tall slender male.

My husband fits this description, as do my two young teens now.

Big and Tall stores and departments rarely touch trim and tall sizes.

I'm sharing what we have found that fits because I know the frustration and was unable to find this information through google myself.

Lands End has medium tall undershirts.

LL Bean's clothing runs short both in the arm length and leg length. It also shrinks a lot.

Eddie Bauer has wrinkle free pinpoint dress shirts and  a limited selection of athletic shirts in medium tall. They also carry jeans that go to a 38 inch length, however they start at a 34 inch waist.

We've had luck finding larger size shoes at Zappos and their customer service is awesome.

Kohls is a hit or miss. Their Tek brand tall's run short. Sometimes we find Gold Toe socks there in extended sizes.

JC Penny online, I hesitate to recommend them as their customer service is pretty weak. We've gotten items we haven't ordered, wrong items, and have had orders stuck in the system for a month. However, it is the only place we can find jeans in the sizes we need. Arizona Jeans start at a 26 inch waist! We were able to order 26 x 34 and 28 x 36 through them. Check the regular section online though, not the tall department. The downside, I haven't a clue what we'll do when he outgrows these as they only go up to 36" length.

We are still looking for medium, or even large tall basic black workout pants - like the Adidas Track pants. They made them at one time. If you know of something similar in a medium or large tall, please link it.

We'd like to find a more of a selection of casual medium and large tall clothing. If you have any suggestions, please link them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Another Benadryl Option for Allergic Reactions

I recently attended a canine first aid and CPR course, during which I learned a tip that I immediately put into use for our entire family. 

We all have various allergies, seasonal, odd reactions, and even anaphylactic food allergies. We carry multiple forms and strengths of epinephrine along with Benadryl. Benadryl has literally been a lifesaver. We've even had to use it on our dogs. 

The first anaphylactic reaction my son had, we did not have epinephrine. I had suspected food allergies, but our physician at the time said that was highly unlikely despite signs. Thankfully I have always kept liquid Benadryl at home and we were at home when the reaction happened. I administered liquid Benadryl to my son as I was on the phone with 911 and waiting for the ambulance. The Benadryl slowed the reaction until more assistance could be provided. 

Liquid Benadryl is always the preferred form of Benadryl, however a bottle of Benadryl is not convenient to carry around. I usually try to purchase dye free, but when the store is out and we are in need, Benadryl is Benadryl. Throughout our 15 years managing  severe allergies and interacting with those familiar with them, no one had ever suggested what I learned at the canine first aid course.

Up until now the options as I knew them were a) a bottle of liquid Benadryl, b) Benadryl fast melts or c) rapid melt strips that dissolve rapidly in the mouth. A is the preferred method, but bulky to carry around. The problem with b is the rapid melt strips packaging is difficult to open without scissors so we also carried child size scissors with us. The issue with option c was the rapid melts crush easily, they are often crushed in day to day transport (as you can see in the above image) and people tend to try to push them through the packaging to open them which further crushes them.

Option A is awkward, especially for men and kids to carry themselves. It's hard enough to get them to carry their epinephrine (which you should always have double of as one may only work in the body for 15 minutes) and inhaler.

Options B and C above are not recommended for dogs as their saliva has a different ph level which would affect the dissolving of those products. 

The canine first aid class recommended carrying Benadryl Liquid-Gels instead. You do not give the entire capsule to the dog. What you do is use a pin to puncture the capsule and squirt the liquid from the capsule into the dogs mouth. This could be applied to humans too.

They suggested taping a safety pin to the back of the capsule packaging so everything is right there if needed. 

So I immediately put Liquid-Gels on my shopping list. Today I picked some up. 

I cut the sleeves into sections and taped a safety pin to the back of each emergency pack. When taping them to the back, tape the back side of the safety pin so the part you are sticking into the capsule is not sticky. 

I then taped a Benadryl liquid-cap/safety pin pack to each of my children's epinephrines. One child also has been prescribed Pepcid for allergic reaction to slow digestion of the allergen. I would consult your doctor, before deciding if that's right for your situation. 

Which would you rather carry, the large bottle of Benadryl or a couple of Liquid-Caps with a safety pin on the back? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Student Directed Learning, Guidance After DIY.org

DIY.org is awesome while kids are in the experimental and exploring phase. They supply an extensive database of skills and challenges as well as providing inspiration from seeing other maker's projects. 

There comes a time when the kids have explored the skill areas that interest them and begin to specialize. There is often a gap in between when that happens and the child turning 16, thus having more options available to them. 

During this time, makers can continue to share their work on their diy.org portfolio, but will seek other options for guidance in finding resources, connecting with other specialists, and where to gain inspiration from those who are more advanced than they are in that particular skill set. 

If the kid has the same interest as their parents, this transition may go pretty smoothly. Others may find it a bit challenging. That was our situation. Neither myself or my husband are knowledgeable in the fields our older two children have decided interest them most. 

What kids can do is continue diy.org's framework by creating custom skills and challenges. Ask them what interests them and what they are curious about. Think beyond the skills and challenges that diy.org has available. (Although diy.org has a variety of skills, there is no way to cover everyone's interests.) Kids can create a skill and challenges using any topic imaginable. 

So the kid shares either a new skill area, existing one they'd like to go beyond diy.org's content with, or sets a goal of something they'd like to do say in the next 3-6 months. They create custom challenges to learn more about those areas, brainstorm what resources are needed and where to find them, and look for those with more experience in that area to gain inspiration from. You help them network and hang out where those people are found. Sometimes that requires finding a coach or mentor to help brainstorm ideas and field specific resources for networking and stretching skills.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Time for Mom . . .

My older two sons are pretty independent now that they are 13 and 14. So for the past year I have been taking classes to further develop a long term interest of mine, dogs. I have two dogs who have opposite personalities, one is very mellow and the other is reactive toward other dogs. I have learned quite a bit through attending private lessons and group classes with my own dogs. Both dogs have passed basic and intermediate training. I've signed up for a Canine First Aid course. I'm working on advanced training with both dogs and am considering training our mellow dog to become a therapy dog. I also have an interest in becoming a dog trainer myself. Meanwhile I continue to learn what I can and enjoy working with my own dogs. 

I'm not thrilled about this "maker movement" going mainstream and being commercialized.

Children have always been naturally curious explorers, and learners. They need time, mentors, and sometimes help locating resources to do what it is they want to do. Children are not buckets to be filled or a lumps of clay to mold into someone else's ideals. They are their own person, each with a unique mix of strengths and passions. Harness that, help them be the best they can be, and contribute to society in a way that fulfills them. 

When adults assign or direct it, it's not authentic self-directed learning. Let your kid lead, observe all the ways they learn through something they have chosen to do. That is the type of learning that sticks and grows an individual. 

I like that others see a need for change within our educational system and sites such as diy.org are inspiring a greater appreciation for natural learning. I would like to see that taken a step further and kids being even more involved in the process.