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Minecraft

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Minecraft is the most amazing video game. It is creative, it teaches math, you can recreate interpretations of famous monuments… And increasingly I cringe when it comes up in conversation with Arthur.

I’ll put it out there right now – full disclaimer – that I don’t like video games. At all. I can play a video game for about 5 minutes and then I am so bored I would rather be doing just about anything at all. There have been a few that held my attention (Sim City…) but for the most part I haven’t ever really been interested in video games of any kind. I see that they have value, but I don’t like what I see them doing to my kids’ brains.

We have our checklists and for the most part they work…but Minecraft is insidious. I was all on board because Math! Building! Creative Play! All in a video game, but better than a shooting game or whatever. But now…

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I’ve been watching Arthur carefully for the past year as Minecraft, in particular, sunk its claws into him. I’ve watched his dynamic relationships with several of his friends reduce to almost exclusive Minecraft conversations. I’ve sat through fit after fit after fit, with the screaming and the shaking and the threatening, because we didn’t get this update or he got a mere 20 minutes of game time or this building wasn’t working. I’ve tailored his school projects because the only thing he is interested in, really deeply interested in, in Minecraft. I’ve listened as he has, weeping, told me he feels like Minecraft ate his brain and he wants to stop playing…and watched him drop everything to be back in the cube world hours later. I’ve heard him say “I feel like my body just needs to play Minecraft…”

This is what addiction looks like. I’ve had addicted friends. I kicked the nicotine addiction more than 10 years ago and sometimes I still have my moments where I miss those cigarettes and “feel like my body needs” just one light up again. This is not okay. I am scared for my kid. I think we are riding the line between obsession and addiction, and I know it’s an easy slide down into dealing with a full scale addiction. Right now, my gut is telling me I need to protect my kid to the best of my ability.

So now he hates me because we shut off Minecraft for the summer. When we made this decision and communicated it to him, he said we are ripping out a part of his soul. When we turn it back on in September it will be with limits and restrictions. Probably lots of them to start with as we find healthy ways to negotiate this Minecraft world.

I’ve started my own research. I found this interesting article by MineMum, and I will continue to explore how we can have Minecraft re-enter our home as an educational ally and game, using it to play and learn without this over-the-top obsession and addiction. I’d love to hear from other people about how they manage video game obsession and/or addiction in their families.

We have had some interesting conversations about moderation, dopamine, brains, addiction, and marketing. Hopefully this helps us build a framework for similar conversations as Arthur gets older.

But in the meantime, I’m going to be the worst mom ever.

 

 

Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

There are so many reasons we choose to homeschool. Here we are on the fifth one. I was thinking about this today as I hunted around on the internet for a worksheet for Brother-Bug. I was thinking about this yesterday as I worked with Sister-Bug as she read a BOB Book.

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Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

Brother-Bug was a precocious reader. He came to me at 3 1/2 and said “Mama, I’m not really reading my books.” I asked him what he meant. “Well, I am only looking at the pictures. Not reading the words.” I asked him if he wanted to read the words. He said no. Two months later he was back. “Mama, I am ready to read the words now.” And he did. We got some easy readers, we played on Starfall. I expected him to lose interest in a couple of days. But everyday the first thing out of his mouth was “When is my reading time today?” He drove the project and read Hop On Pop independently before he turned four. By his fifth birthday he was reading things like Magic Treehouse to himself. Sister-Bug is almost five. She wants to be a reader, but it’s not her main priority. So we play sight word games and read some BOB books and use our felt alphabet to spell easy words. She has some reading games on the iPad and also enjoys Starfall. But it’s not easy for her like it was for Brother-Bug. She needs me to keep it fresh and engaging and fun. Brother-Bug needed me to reach the easy readers off the shelf.

As I write this, Toddler-Bug is sitting on my lap. He’s singing Mamma-Mia (ABBA…yes, I know…). He’s very musical and has crazy fine-motor skills. Eventually he is also going to learn to read and he will also learn in a different way. And that’s part of why we are here, homeschooling. Sister-Bug loves working systematically thorough a math workbook. Brother-Bug needs more challenge – he get’s math concepts very quickly and needs those concepts to change and grow and diversify. He gets so bored with a linear book.
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Because these are my kids, because I have watched them grow and learn and change from babies, I can make that distinction. Because they are the only 3 kids in my “class”, I can teach each one a different way and follow their lead on what they need and how they learn. And because of this, I believe they are learning deeply and well. They are not struggling to learn in a format that is unnatural for them, which would make that subject doubly challenging.

Additionally, we are not locked into a single grade level. Brother-Bug does 2-3rd grade math, but reads like a 4-5th grader. His writing is around 1st grade (that’s his hardest thing). Sister-Bug is just about on track for K-1st, but she’s still mostly playing in her school work and we don’t pay too much attention to her grade levels. No one is bored in an too easy class or frustrated in a too hard subject because I can adjust our lessons and experiences to fit in that niche of just challenging enough. I can pull us down a level if we are getting so frustrated we can’t learn or add complexity if we are feeling bored. I can add tactile elements for my SPD kid, or do all StarWars writing all the time to engage my StarWars obsessed child. It’s my choice, and their education, and I am so glad that we have the time and flexibility to reach each child in their time, and on their level.

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Want to see our other reasons to homeschool?

Reason One: A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two: School Scheduled Around Life

Reason Three: Play Happens

Reason Four: Getting Out or Staying In

DIY Flag Ornaments

I love the way our ornament collection grows, full of memory. The wobbly salt dough ornaments from various childhoods, the bugs we painted with glitter one year (Brother-Bug has a millipede ornament), first ornaments of the kids, the angel ornament that adorned the top my our first mutual tree some 11 years ago – so small a tree (table top rosemary) that this angel ornament was almost too big. My childhood ornaments, Papa-Bug's childhood ornaments. It's precious.

This year I ended up with extra glass globes – empty and waiting. They came in a six pack and I only needed two. So I started looking around online. I found this lovely silhouette idea…

Nativity Silhouette Ornaments

But I wanted something to save This Year.

As you know, we are studying global cultures (and really enjoying it). So flags, I thought. Something fun and special just for us. Something to remind us of this year of travel from home and study of things abroad.

I found flag pictures online, tweaked them in Photoshop a bit, and printed them on vellum. Then following the tutorial I stuck them to acetate and put them in the globes. Of course we added glitter. We almost always add glitter, especially at Christmastime. Glitter and/or sprinkles.

These look really good from all angles, and especially lovely in front of the tree lights. Because of the fragile ornaments, I did most of the actual work. But the kids picked their own flags and were right there in the way while we made these. All four ornaments took only about 20 minutes total.

 

Sister-Bug chose Brazil. We studied Brazil in September and October and she loves all things Brazillian right now.

Brother-Bug chose Thailand. He wanted Japan, but the Japanese flag would have looked kind of like just a red dot…so he went for Thailand. We haven't had a Thai unit yet, but my mom and her sweetie have travelled in Thailand a lot, so we love it for that.

I picked Hungary for Toddler-Bug. He was asleep (because I wouldn't do a glass ornament project with an active and wakeful toddler). Papa-Bug has roots in Hungary and it seemed like fun. It was really hard to choose – so many good flags out there.

Finally, for Papa-Bug and me, I went with South Africa. Because Nelson Mandela. And wanting the best global representation I could get in four flags.

So that's our ornament of the year. They are glowing and beautiful on the tree. Another memory preserved to cherish.

And now I must be off. Brother-Bug is performing in our local Nutcracker tonight. I have to get my Little Angel (for that is what he is onstage) fed and rested and ready to go. It's going to be a big night.

Happy Tree Trimming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Deeds Again

Last year we tried out our Good Deeds Calendar for Advent. It was a mixed bag for the kids, but I really liked it. At the very least it helped me keep a focus on extending our bounty and love out into the world.

Good Deeds

Here is the original post, and here are my reflections on our experience.

And here is a list of what Good Deeds we might do:

(Note that there are more than 24 here so that I have some wiggle room if the plans don’t always work out…)

  • Send a loving letter to someone.
  • Draw a picture for a child in the hospital.
  • Buy some pet treats and take them to the animal shelter.
  • Donate canned goods to the postal food drive.
  • Today is The Great Toy Giveaway!!
  • Write a list of 5 things you love about someone you haven’t talked to recently, and mail it to them.
  • Take a hike somewhere beautiful. Bring a bag with you and pick up litter.
  • Bring Papa coffee in bed.
  • Make a batch of fudge or cookies and take it to Pasta Plus (where my mom works).
  • Tell Mama something you like about a local business and have her post it to their FB wall.
  • Give compliments to 3 people today. How many people total is that?
  • Play a game with your sibling that THEY want to play. Let them make the rules.
  • Send a Christmas card to someone in the military.
  • Take flowers to a nursing home.
  • Buy some art supplies at the Dollar Store. Donate the supplies to the children’s ward at the hospital.
  • Go out for steamers. Have Mama pay for the person in line behind us.
  • Visit an elderly person and ask to hear what Christmas was like when they were young. Really listen to their story.
  • Plan a Christmas Movie Party. Pick a movie, plan on pop-corn and cocoa! Invite friends and ask them to bring $3-5 each. We will donate the money to a good cause.
  • Have the Movie Party!! Draw a card for your guests to sign. Send/take the money to the organization you are donating to.
  • Donate some picture books to children who need books. Mama will help you find a good place.
  • Write a Christmas card for your ballet Teacher and your scout Leaders about why they are good teachers. Deliver them at class time with a jar of jam.
  • Take these candy canes with you when you run errands to day. Give one to someone you see who looks like they “need a smile”. (I borrowed this idea from Colleen Kessler – Thanks Colleen!!)
  • Out on errands? Hold the door for people coming behind you.
  • Take a donation of food to the Food For Lane County office.
  • Bake a batch of cookies and take them to the Fire Station near our house. Thank the Firefighters for their service.
  • Leave early for Church. Stop at the Dollar Store and buy some personal care product (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap…). Leave it in the Occupy Medical donation bin at Church.

I am thinking of getting a Good Deed canister to go next to the calendar and putting money in it. That way they can take the dollars out for a trip to the dollar store and buy their own supplies. They don’t have to rely (as directly) on me to do pay for them. It is their Good Deed Money that does the Good.

What does your family do that is similar?

Join This Imperfect Project

ParadiseThese two articles made me think. A lot.

Glennon Melton (on Huffington Post) // A Whole New — And Necessary — Way To See Your Messy House

Coffee & Crumbs // It’s Their Day Too

I thought about many things, but mostly about what I show to the world through my social media streams. I rarely share the hard moments. The messy and horrible moments. The “why am I doing this?” moments. The whoops moments. Partly because in those moments I rarely have the wherewithal to get out my camera and partly because I want to share, and look back on, positive moments.

Of course, we also know that my perfect Instagram pictures are making some person somewhere feel inadequate as she compares her backstage to my highlight reel. So I am proposing a challenge for myself and I’d love to have other people join me.

33 Imperfections

Starting on October 25th I will be posting a daily picture on my social media pages. The game is to post 33 pictures (or updates) – to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, wherever – that are are imperfect. Stains, spills, temper tantrums, bad hair, missed busses, projects gone horribly wrong… You understand what I mean.  Post it with the tag #imperfect33. Tell us why it is imperfect AND why it is also perfect (or at least not awful). Where is the good in the imperfect?

“Missed the bus and being late to work isn’t good, but now I get 30 minutes to wait and read on this fall day.”

“Spilled the birthday cake frosting… I’ll start over and make sure I follow the directions in order. The next batch will be even better.”

“Child just painted the floor. He’s making me mop!!”

“This is my messy kitchen. The fruit flies are thick. Let’s be glad I can’t post the smell from the compost bucket. But the baby is asleep on me. I’ll let it be messy and take this moment to read to my preschooler.”

“Look at this pile of laundry. It’s been almost a month since I’ve folded and put away. Family has been in town. I’m lucky that they came to visit me and we had a wonderful time!!”

Voltaire

How does something catastrophic turn out good? What blessing is hiding under the tears or the mess or the accident? How can we change how we look at things and what we are willing to show the world about our funky lives?

If we start on October 25th, it will take us right up to Thanksgiving. We will look at our imperfectly perfect lives and (borrowing a word from Glennon Melton) having those perspectacles on for the previous 33 days will really tell us how special and quirky and wonderful our worlds are, in all their imperfections.

Who wants to join me? Who can share their imperfect lives?

Choosing Scouts

It all started with Sister-Bug. She’s super social. She’s very much “all girls- all the time”. Papa-Bug and I realized that she would do really well in Girl Scouts. We looked into the organization and felt like it was good, forward thinking, very accepting, and something we could support. In a wonderful coincidence, a friend of Brother-Bug’s needed some younger Scout members in her troop. We explained the concepts of Scouts to Sister-Bug. She was all in. We bought the tunic and patches.

She had a great investiture (that’s a big word for a kid to say…and I love hearing her try to say it) and was so proud of herself. Brother-Bug looked on. And later told us he wanted to do some scouts. The uniform…the patches… It was all so alluring.

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But… … Boy Scouts? Cub Scouts?

Now, my dad was an Eagle, so I had heard good things about scouts while I was growing up. But the politics. The anti-gay, “morally straight” yuckiness of it all. We explained to Brother-Bug that the Boy Scouts had some politics we really, really didn’t agree with. He was on the fence. He knows that our politics are important to us and of course he wants to please us. But he also was really interested in Scouts. What to do?

I started calling around, asking people I knew about Scouts in the area and what they would do with my quirky son and his outspoken, justice-oriented parents. I couldn’t find any alternative scouting groups like Campfire Kids or Spiral Scouts. The nature schools were all really expensive. I kept coming back to Cub Scouts as the only viable option at the present time.

This spurred a number of great discussions in our family. We’ve talked about how my politics, and Papa-Bug’s politics, and Brother-Bugs politics aren’t all the same – and they shouldn’t be. We should question and explore and disagree and discuss. If he’s okay with Scouts, then that is ultimately his choice. We’ve talked about the power of the boycott and why boycotting Boy Scouts until they change their ways might be one choice to make, but also how we can sometimes change organizations because we are a part of them and that kind of internal shifting that also can happen. Both are good options.

Ultimately what we want to do as parents is help our kids follow their dreams and desires with awareness. Shutting down something our child is interested in, simply because it makes us uncomfortable isn’t fair to that child. Our job is to keep them safe and thriving. And what they learn from us and our responses to events and decisions in their lives…that’s going to matter much more than many other details that touch their days.

So we kept looking.

Brother-Bug and I visited one area group. It wasn’t a good fit. The leader looked at me like I was turning plaid when I asked how her group felt about bullying, queer kids, and gender creative kids (and I hadn’t even mentioned queer Scout leaders or cultural appropriation yet!). I left worried about both meeting Brother-Bug’s desires and also finding him a safe space. He left happy that there had been ice cream, and still on the fence.

While I was at that meeting, Papa-Bug opened up a discussion about Scouts on his Facebook wall. It was interesting, and I was able to connect with some adult Scouts from the area who know our family well enough to know what kind of a group we need. They put me in touch with other leaders who are open minded and accepting of the quirky people. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with many pack leaders. I was moved by the number of good and kind people who reached out to my family to help us and to make sure we felt supported. The larger group politics may be out of sync with my reality, but the local groups I talked to are very open, and many of them are working hard to change those politics.

Finally we found a pack. We bought the shirt and the patches (and let me tell you – with two kids in scouts it is so good I am handy with a needle). It’s not a perfect pack. Boy Scouts still has a long way to go and a lot of challenges to face. But I am confident that my child will be safe and treated with respect. And the look on Brother-Bug’s face when he called my dad to tell him he had found a Cub Scout Pack made it all worth it. He felt so good, so proud of himself.

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Of all the “moms” on the list, I never thought I would find myself a “scout mom”. It’s been an interesting journey to start, and I’m sure it will keep on challenging me in ways that I don’t expect. But here we are with two kids in scouts, and I’d better stop writing and go finish sewing on their patches.

Reason Four – Getting Out or Staying In

Returning to the “reasons we homeschool”… another installment in my sporadic series about why we choose homeschooling. Today, I have a moment and one is right in front of me. It’s an early fall rainy day, the first really rainy day and still a little warm, so I sent the kids outside to play in the rain. I left their math work for another day. And that brings us to our fourth reason to homeschool:

Reason Four: Getting Out or Staying In

If it is the first sunny day in a while, an especially rainy day, we had a late night, we will be having a late night, it is a birthday or other event, it snowed, if the chanterelles are ripe, if we end to can peaches, if someone is sick… We change our day and it isn’t an issue. No absences. Rarely do we need emergency child care. No gazing out the window at the playground, wistful on that first spring-ish day.

A could of winters past, we had assorted illnesses for eight weeks. It was exhausting, but school didn’t really suffer. We didn’t take “sick days” often. When we were too sick to do our schoolwork, I found related movies and audible books for the sick kids and we cuddled and learned that way. We changed our school plan and learned about the immune system. We learned a lot about what herbs we could use to help ourselves heal. We didn’t go out often and I think the extended days of mellow time gave us the strength we needed to get to ballet or science group when we could.

Had we been in school, Brother-Bug would have used up all his “sick days” and been in elementary peril for too many absences. If I were employed, that eight week stretch would have emptied both parental sick day savings, and we could have been in employment peril. We might have had to shell out dollars for baby sitters, if we could have found people to stay with our plaguey children.

So we stay in when we need to. Or, even better, we drop our books and head to the woods and fields just because we want to. We ditch writing practice for an adventure to the science museum. We ignore math work for the magic (and math) of turning apples to sauce for the next year. We get out in all weathers. Or we stay in because we just need to stay in. One memorable day, when Brother-Bug was a preschooler, neither of us was feeling up to facing the day. We stayed in bed all day together, escaping for lunch, and we read Where The Sidewalk Ends from cover to cover. Of course that was when there was only one kid…

But the reasoning remains the same. We have plenty of non-negotiable in our days. There are more and more as we grow older. Now is the moment for these kids of mine. Now they can still drop everything just to watch clouds change or pick strawberries or catch snowflakes or finish a whole book in a day (and start another). Much like our second reason – School Scheduled Around Life – we want to get as much as we can out of our life with these magical kids, and we want them to learn how to do that too.

Here it is, almost Mushroom Season. Learning happens everywhere, all the time. Structure is important. Learning the essentials is, well, essential. But more than math or reading or writing, I want them to learn to live fully and to know when to stop and stay in if you can…or drop everything because the ripe chanterelles are calling.

Reason One: A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two: School Scheduled Around Life

Reason Three: Play Happens