Friday, October 26, 2007

The Lego stop motion movie

I have been feeling anxious about how much of Josiah's time the Lego stop motion movie project continues to take up. I'd really like his time to be freed up again for other activities ... maths work, for example! Then, today, I was making a note of the various language work the kids have done in the past few months and I remembered that the stop motion movie had involved Josiah (who hates writing) independently producing a significant piece of writing: the script! For the last few days, Josiah has spent an hour or two each day adding special effects ("laser shots") to the battle scene photos; he still has 28 photos to go, poor kid. Given that that means the movie will continue to take up Josiah's time for another week, I think it would be worth my identifying what I see as valuable in the exercise, just for my own peace of mind, so I can relax about Josiah not having as much time for other work. So ... the Lego stop motion movie has involved:

  • Story planning, including creation of characters.

  • Script writing.

  • Artistic arrangement: setting each scene with Lego pieces.

  • Photography.

  • Precision, and attention to detail: for a stop motion movie to look reasonably fluid, the movement of objects from one frame to the next must be small and uniform.

  • Sound recording.

  • Team work: Josiah and Tessa took the photos together and recorded the dialogue together. There were several altercations triggered by artistic differences, which the children negotiated their way through.

  • Patience!! The time Geoff sat on Jabba's sail barge and it had to be rebuilt! And I think the photos for more than one scene had to be taken twice because the lighting or something else wasn't consistent the first time.

  • Editing: looking at each scene with the photos run together to identify where there were superfluous shots and where there were gaps that needed filling. In a couple of cases, the cast had to be reassembled for extra shots.

  • Working with software for manipulating graphics: adding in special effects and cutting carefully around objects so that they could be displayed against a different background.

  • Perseverance: sticking at the boring jobs like adding laser shots to photo after photo.

  • Self-motivation: although Geoff and I have helped when asked (Geoff more than me), Josiah has received no prompting from us - the driving force has been entirely his.

Okay, I'm feeling better about all this Smileys

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Keeping tidy

At one of our earliest family meetings, we agreed that we would tidy up after ourselves before moving from one activity to the next. Why is it then that our living room is once again in that familiar state in which I would be embarrassed to receive unexpected visitors? Let me describe what I see on the floor ...

  • a miniature soccer ball (lives on the living room floor for convenience so that is no surprise);

  • a skipping rope;

  • my gloves (lying where I dumped them when I got home from cycling with Tessa to her guitar lesson and the library this morning);

  • Tessa's back pack and a couple of library books (lying where Tessa dumped them when she got home from cycling to her guitar lesson and the library this morning)

  • one complete suit of armour made from cardboard boxes, one incomplete suit of armour made from cardboard boxes and five cardboard boxes which are likely to become armour within the next day or two;

  • a bead necklace;

  • a pencil;

  • a stick (others might object to my labeling this object a stick, preferring to call it a wand; but it did come off one of the willow trees in front of our house);

  • the sack our two-person tent is stored in (the tent is currently pitched on Tessa's bedroom floor; she's been sleeping in it for the last week or so);

  • a sleeping bag sack (been on the floor since Josiah returned from a sleepover at a friend's place a week ago and I removed the sleeping bag from its sack to hang it over a doorway to air for a few hours ... the sleeping bag has remained draped over Josiah's doorway for the last week, except when it has sat in a heap on the hallway floor because someone wanted the door shut);

  • two AAA batteries;

  • Tessa's slippers;

  • a piece of paper;

  • a pencil sharpener;

  • a photo album;

  • a sweatshirt of Tessa's;

  • two scrap book pages made by Josiah and Tessa that have fallen off the wall;

  • a supermarket bag containing all Tessa's stickers and special art things.

You get the idea and I haven't even told you about all the stuff dumped on the furniture! (Clean laundry, books, plastic bag, my crochet bag, a piece of paper, MP3 player, camera, keys, a duvet, a bag of dried apricots, and more.) Or what is on the hallway floor. (One of Josiah's slippers, Josiah's climbing bag, Tessa's climbing bag, Josiah's backpack.)

Sometimes, sticking to good intentions is just too much. Think I might go and eat some chocolate.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why Montessori homeschooling?

A member of the Montessori homeschooling email discussion group Playschool6 is writing a magazine article on Montessori homeschooling and has posted a list of questions for willing members to answer to help her with the article. Some of the questions were on topics I don't think I've written about previously here. In case they are of interest, here are my answers to those ...

Why homeschooling?

The reason we started homeschooling and the reason we continue to homeschool are different so I'll answer them separately.

We pulled Tessa out of a "Montessori" preschool at age 4.5 years because we were not happy with the environment at that school. Children only had limited freedom to choose their own work; the classroom atmosphere was intimidating: "No crying at school" one teacher told a child; low level bullying (kids saying unkind things to each other) was the norm each day when all four preschool classes used the playground together and three of the four adult supervisors sat chatting in a corner of the playground.

Initially, we planned to re-enrol Tessa in the school when she turned 6: Josiah was enjoying his time in one of the 6-9 classrooms with a loving, gentle teacher, although he was often frustrated and hampered by the lack of freedom to choose his own work. But before Tessa turned 6, we had discovered the advantages of homeschooling and decided to continue homeschooling. We waited till Josiah expressed interest in trying homeschooling, which he did at age 7, then he left school too.

Our primary reason for continuing to homeschool is the freedom it gives our children to follow their own interests and timing and to work and learn in their own style. And because we all love it :)

Why Montessori?

Because I agree with Maria Montessori's views as expressed in her books, that children learn best in an environment of freedom with responsibility, treated with respect, with a responsive adult present who observes the child and modifies the environment to better meet the child's needs, removing obstacles and introducing activities that cater to the individual child's changing interests.

How did you discover it?

When Josiah was 2.5 years old, my local homebirth group organised a day seminar on "alternative education". As well as a speaker from a local Free School (Summerhill style) and someone else I can't remember, Beth Alcorn of Montessori World Education Institute spoke about Montessori and demonstrated materials. I was enthralled.

What do you like in this method?

The outstanding learning that is possible when children choose their own work rather than having it set by someone else.

The ease with which it is possible to provide an individualised education for every child, catering to each child's interests, timing and learning and working styles.

The Montessori materials, which, to my mind, are the work of genius, especially the maths and geometry materials. The Montessori maths and geometry curriculum is far superior to any other I have seen. Josiah and Tessa love working with the materials and discovering concepts through their own exploration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Lots of work today. We read history together. Tessa opted to do science while Josiah wrote his climbing diary. Tessa read to me from the science book, How Nature Works, then we collected flowers and dissected them, trying to identify the various parts, before grinding the petals to make chromatograms, separating the coloured pigments. The chromatograms weren't entirely successful; we think we misunderstood the instructions and we should have ground whole plants or at least whole flowers, not just the petals, so that there would be a wider variety of pigments in the solution. Might try again tomorrow.

Next Tessa wanted to do maths; it's the first time she's initiated maths work in a while. I presented an activity on adding and subtracting negative numbers, which Tessa quickly mastered. I'll present the Negative Snake Game to her next; I should probably get it out and practise first - it's been a while. Josiah and I read from his current science book, The Variety of Life. The kids recorded the final lines for their Lego movie and Geoff helped them manipulate the recordings to make them sound like Darth Vader etc.

Everyone in the family except me is reading Artemis Fowl books. I read the first one a couple of years ago and didn't like it at all. I like good heroes. But Josiah heard about the books and got the first out of the library (soon to be followed by the rest). He loves them - is completely hooked - we've found him still reading at one in the morning on a couple of nights. I think he's up to about the fourth book now, and Tessa has started the second so she must like them too. Geoff's just started the first - not sure what he thinks yet.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

First day back

Sort of a productive day yesterday, although the kids had several fights. We read some history. (I need to make our next time line; we have come to the end of the Classical period and are about to start reading about the early Middle Ages.) Josiah and Tessa made lists of everyone they'd like to make Christmas cards for. This may seem terribly well organised; it's just that if it's left till the end of term, Josiah, who doesn't enjoy writing, will have a miserable time getting them all done, whereas if he does one a week, he is likely to have fun. He likes to make cards on Inkscape, taking considerable time over them.

Tessa began work on her Christmas cards immediately, making two beautiful cards, and went on to write postcards to her penpal and her cousins in Nelson while Josiah wrote his climbing diary. Their big plan for the day was to finish recording the sound for their Lego stop motion movie. I'm not sure whether they succeeded or not; they certainly spent a long time speaking into the microphone at the computer but I think for much of that they were just making weird noises to see what they would sound like when played back.

Today Josiah is at his Technicraft Class. I've read with Tessa from a book about writing and from a couple of history books of her choosing. She rejected at first my suggestion to play the Multiplication Snake Game for times tables practice but when I got it out myself to practise the presentation, she joined in and seemed to derive mild enjoyment from it. My next plan for Tessa's maths is to present some activities with negative numbers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The end of the holidays

After my 14yo niece went home, I tentatively suggested that the kids might like to get back to our new work schedule even though the school holidays continue this week. That suggestion was scorned. It was maybe unrealistic anyway as it turns out Tessa has three sleepovers this week. And Josiah seems to be having a productive week regardless. He has done some further work on his lego movie. Something made him get out our electric circuit equipment - wires, bulbs, batteries, switches, buzzers etc. He experimented making different circuits, trying to light two bulbs at once: the perfect opportunity to explore what happens when you place objects in series or parallel in a circuit. I hunted out our various science books which have sections on electric circuits and Josiah and I read what each had to say. Not a bad day's work. There are a couple of other experiments Josiah wants to try but we need more parts. [Update: just picked up the needed parts this morning and Josiah is at work building circuits again as I write.]

Both kids are spending a surprising amount of time reading, sorting and playing with the "Stat Attack" cards they've been collecting from weetbix packets and swapping with friends for the last few months. Each card has the picture of an All Black and his "statistics" - year of birth, average tackles, test points, weight, etc. It is hilarious listening to Tessa, who has only watched two or three rugby games in her life and fell asleep during at least one of those, knowledgeably discussing different All Blacks with her brother. Lots of maths is being done around these cards: how many children Tessa's and Josiah's weight (35kg) would it take to make an All Black? (Answer: approximately 3.) Josiah has drawn up a huge table of statistics and is spending long periods bent over a calculator and jotting down figures. I've had a peek at the table and at first couldn't work out what it all meant: Grant Fox is not two years old so why is there a "2" entered for him under age? I think what Josiah has done is rank the All Blacks in each statistic. That would explain why I keep coming across the cards lined up across the living room floor in different sequences.

I have been making use of journalling during the day to identify what I should do next. As I mentioned recently, writing is how I think things through and reach decisions. I have made surprisingly little use of this to control the flow of my days, restricting my writing to bigger picture, analytical writing after the event. Yesterday, soon after Josiah started working with the electric circuit equipment, I wondered if I should join him or if that would be interrupting. I picked up pen and paper and, from across the room so he wouldn't notice what I was doing, just started writing what I saw. I had only written a few sentences when I knew it would be helpful if I got out our science books: Josiah was questioning the causes of what was happening in the circuits he was building.

I did the same again later in the day when Tessa came home from a friend's place and immediately got out the aforementioned Stat Attack cards to show Josiah the new ones she had got from an exchange with her friend. Josiah was being a bit confrontational, grabbing cards from Tessa's hands to look at them - he had that urgency that kids often get when they want something. I wondered if I should intervene but as I wrote what I was seeing, I noticed that Tessa was entirely unperturbed - perfectly calm. Josiah soon relaxed too and the kids started a game with the cards.