Balancing Life and Learning

   Sometimes I find it so hard to balance life and learning.  Mostly we just go with the flow and I don't worry about the learning part as I know it occurs naturally through life.  Other days I really want to see the learning part taking place.  Today was one of those day I wanted to see the learning.  I think I'm getting greedy since I've been noticing so many changes in the boys lately.  Last night after basketball, Ian read --alone in his room, at bedtime, by his own choosing and finished up his book.  That means he read 6 chapters.  In an hour!  Ian!  My non- reader!  Alec also read last night; he started, yet another, new series called The Guardians of Ga'hoole (which was recommended to us by my hairdresser). He ended up reading until I went in and chided him for being up so late.  It was just about 10 o'clock and I was going to bed.  I wouldn't care if he stayed up all night reading if he'd sleep in the next day but I knew he wouldn't.  He loved the book though and didn't want to put it down.  Even after I finally convinced him to turn out the light I must have stood there for another 10 minutes while he told me all about what he had read and what his predictions were for what was coming up in the story.  It was great but I probably would have been more into his discussion if I hadn't been ready to fall asleep on my feet.  After three reminders that I wanted to go to bed and that it was getting late I finally had to walk away-- while the poor kid was still talking!  Evan, who is still struggling to read on his own has been hounding my husband to read the Lord of the Ring books to him and has listened to The Fellowship of the Rings before bed these past few nights.  My husband thinks the book is over his head and probably feels like he's wasting his time but I know if Evan's asking to hear it he must be into it.  He's relating the two video games we have (Playstation Lord of the Rings Return of the King & Lego Lord of the Rings ) and the three movies he's watched to what he's listening to.  My kids don't consider any of this as school.  They know they can count it as school time and reading time but this is just fun for them.  They enjoy books and stories. 
   So I got up today thinking with all the extra reading they've been doing I wasn't going to worry about reading today.  And I didn't.  But I did find myself worrying about math, science, social studies and history.  All subjects that I feel keep falling by the wayside.  I don't know why I feel that way.  Looking at our week we've done a lot with these subjects.  I know it's just me and my perception but even knowing that I have a hard time fighting it.  I tried though, I ignored all the little doubts niggling at the back of my head about needing to focus and do school and headed out to run a few errands with the boys and go grocery shopping.  I figured our local public school was having two half- days this week and Friday off as well as a half- day next week with two days off.  We had to be doing more than that at least!  Right?!  Maybe...
    Alec was my first one up (at 6:20!) and the others soon followed.  While I compiled the list and clipped coupons they played Minecraft and Ian started watching The Curse of Oak Island.  Ian noticed that Alec had mined flowers for dye and even found gold in his world and asked to link in.  He's very interested in gold.  Watching the Dig Into Mining series yesterday reaffirmed Ian's belief that Minecraft is educational when one of the men speaking referenced it and said it was a lot like his job.   We all piled into the car and we waited for Alec to finish his chapter in The Guardians book before starting our book on CD.  While waiting for him to finish Ian and I were talking about all the snow had been falling in Buffalo, New York.  Ian was jealous that they had so much snow and we had none.  He's dying to start shoveling.  He started asking me where exactly Buffalo is in New York state.  He assumed it was in the north and used my phone to look it up on google.  He pulled up a New York map and found that Buffalo was actually on the south western part of the state along the great lakes.  He zoomed in to see the town in detail; right up to people's docks and backyards.  He asked me if all the great lakes get bad storms and we talked a bit about lake effect snow.  Alec put his bookmark in his book and the younger two boys looked at the zoomed out map too noting where Buffalo was located.  We then listened to another disk in The Dragon Rider today and found that my predictions were wrong while Evan was right.  I really thought the serpent was going to be a bad guy but it seems like his part of the book is done and he really was quite helpful. 
   At the store I had Alec and Evan working together crossings things off the list while Ian pushed the second carriage and helped me pull things off the shelves.  I had him weigh the butternut squash, tell me how much it weighed (he was going to get really specific too when the needle went one little line past 4.5 lbs.).  I assured him 4.5 was close enough and asked if he could figure out the approximate cost for the squash if it cost $.78 a lb.  He looked at me rather blankly at first so I helped walk him through the problem.  We first rounded $.78 to $.80 and then multiplied 80 by 4.  He multiplied 8 by 4 came up with 32 and added the zero to the end.  We added the decimal point back into place and then since we still had a half pound we added another $.40 to our $3.20. to get an approximate price. 
    Once home the boys helped me unload the car and I asked them to pick out their own schoolwork for today.  I really want to make them more self- reliant when it comes to learning and I was hoping that by picking their own schoolwork they'd pick something fun that they were interested in.  I reminded Ian he could work on his drafting only to be told that he had worked on it yesterday and finished it all up.  I had no idea he had done drafting yesterday!  He settled on The Scrambled States of America game and talked Alec into playing with him.  They soon started squabbling and fighting and Alec cleaned up the game claiming that he didn't like playing with a cheater.
   They decided to pull out Blokus next and Evan wanted to play too.  They set up the game, read the instructions and played... or fought.  I'm not really sure which was more prevalent but it sure seemed like it was the fighting.  They swore they played a whole game and were applying math and logic/ problem solving skills to the game but from the kitchen it mostly sounded like bickering.  Alec took his math minute and passed and we picked a day to have our celebratory dinner at Olive Garden. 

   The boys all made lunches and we read the four other postcards we got for the month in our postcard exchange.  We talked about the four states-- Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  We talked about the states a bit and the boys told me some facts that they knew.  We then read a bit more of our Harry Potter book.  The boys bickered during lunch, while cleaning up lunch, and even while trying to clean up the playroom after deciding they were all done with both games.  I decided I had had enough of the bickering and sent them all to their rooms.  I set the timer for 30 minutes and asked them all for a silent 30 minutes.  The timer rang and no one left their rooms.  Ian and Evan were both happily creating away with their Lego sets and Alec was reading up the rest of his book.  I actually went to go check on them wondering if someone had fallen asleep or if they hadn't heard me tell them they could get out of their rooms.  But they were happy and content so I let them be. 
   While they were up in their rooms I had pulled out a bunch of materials and put them on the table.  After watching The Magic School Bus Under Construction yesterday I was reminded of the STEM activity I had stumbled upon on the Dyson Foundation's website about building a bridge using spaghetti, tape and elastics.  I pulled out those three materials as well as some mini marshmallows and toothpicks.  I figured they could use any combination of materials to make a bridge if they wanted.  Ian, my engineer type guy, took to the suggestion like a fish to water.  He dug right in and asked if he could use some tongue depressors also.  We dug them out of the cabinet and he kept right on working.   Their cousin came over and wanted to try making a bridge too.  Ian told him that triangles were stronger shapes than squares and Alec set to work helping him.  Next thing I knew they were all working on Ian's bridge making it as big as they could.  They added a second story too.  Evan built a small little sword; took a picture of it and moved onto the next activity.   When Alec tried to balance some things on top of the bridge to see how strong it was they noticed it wasn't very strong at all.  They tried adding side supports to the bridge to see if that would help make it more stable. 


The (mostly) finished bridge

Looking down three tunnels of the bridge

Evan's creation and photograph
     Ian also finished up his plane today and set the glue to dry one final time before painting it.  He's picked out his paint colors already.  He told me he needs blue, silver and red.  He did need a bit of help finishing it up today.  The way the holes were drilled in the body of plane didn't like up with the holes in the pontoons so the dowels had to be stretched and forced into the holes a bit.  We had to be careful not to break any pieces. 
   We headed out to the library to pick up a few more new books for Alec.  He wanted the second book in The Guardians series and the fourth book in the Warriors series came in so he has book 4, 5, & 6 to read.  I asked him if four chapter books were going to be to much for him to read in a week and he rolled his eyes at me and reminded me how many chapter books he's already read this past week.  He also found time to read all of Evan's Elephant and Piggie books as well as his many varied chapter books and a few non- fiction magazines about animals as well.  I guess he was right; that was kind of a silly question.  And really, he has way more than a week in which to read them.  I don't know what I was thinking. 
  The boys suited up and played outside a bit today too.  Though cold out, the sun is finally shining and that makes it a bit more bearable to play outside.  Ian wants to get in some more digging before the ground freezes over.  Evan played outside on the playground and then brought his claws and shield outside playing a Lego Chima/ Wolverine game by himself.  It was great seeing rosy cheeks again.  Then we worked together to build a fire in the fire place to warm up by. 
   Alec and I elected to stay inside.  He read a bit of his new Warrior book and then we played several rounds of Zeus on the Loose.  He beat me.  I'm always happy to play the game with him though.  It's a fun and fairly quick game that relies on lots of mental math.  We add, subtract, round up, flip tens and ones, and keep a running tally of the pile.  Besides, Alec just loves it so much. 
Playing our game, surrounded by his books.  If he was smiling this would
be the perfect picture of Alec. 


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