Professor Astro Cat: our current obsession. 

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As a mom of extreme outlier, I struggle to find fun, colorful and INFORMATIVE children’s books for my kids.

A few weeks ago the Scientist casually asked me about black holes, gravitational waves and Einstein’s work. Easy enough task, right? While researching the topics and trying to simplify the language, I put “quantum physics for 5 year olds” and stumbled upon Dr. Dominic Walliman’s TEDxEastVan video Quantum Physics for 7 Year Olds. 5, 7…close enough. 

That lead me to his YouTube channel and I stayed up all night perusing the videos. 

That, in term, lead me to Amazon where I bough all the children’s books he wrote. Oops, that wasn’t the plan, I only wanted to purchase one, but kept slipping and falling onto the “buy” button. Repeatedly. 

Today we read Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventures. My wiggly kid who is NEVER still and is ALWAYS moving…sat still, barely breathing, with his eyes wide open for 2 hours. It a miracle!!!!

I share our read-aloud wiggly struggles and strategies to improve the experience here
Now please excuse me while I go out and patiently wait for our fabulous UPS driver by the road!  He is delivering these today: 

Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventures

Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

What are your favorite children’s books? Bonus points if your gifted or 2e learner is mesmerized by them. 

Favorite Books Of 2017

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Up until a year ago, given the choice between fiction and non-fiction, I would pick fiction in 10 out of 10 cases. Something changed on New Year’s eve 2017. What happened a year ago?

We officially started homeschooling our twice exceptional son.

Term twice exceptional (or 2e) often refers to intellectually gifted children who also have some form of disability or learning differences. So double the challenge, double the fun.

As a self-proclaimed research junkie, I NEEDED to have more information, so I turned to books, Amazon, library, friends, Facebook groups and trusted web sites. I read this article and down the rabbit hole I went.  Over the half of the books I’ve read this year are non-fiction.

Out of 75+ books I’ve read in 2017 these ten stood out the most:

  1. The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star by Tom Clynes  confirmed my suspicions that our 5-year-old is highly gifted and that turning to non-traditional parenting choices was the right thing to do for our family, despite all the sighs and well intended advice we received.
  2. The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism by Kristine Barnett I picked up this book after seeing Jacob Barnett’s Forget What You Know TED Talk. Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. But his story is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. Surrounded by experts at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. His parents knew that they had to make a change.
  3. Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally Clarkson, Nathan Clarkson  Inspiring, heartbreaking and uplifting, this book made me feel like I’m not alone. We have an outside-of-box kid too, and I found myself tearfully relating to Sally’s story and making mental notes for the future. Nathan’s perspective was unique and eye-opening. I highly recommend this wonderful book!
  4.  The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre Thought provoking summary and analysis of the research showing that boys and men lag well behind girls and women in school achievement.
  5. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown  At the end of the day I often find myself exhausted, but looking back at the day I realize that nothing important was accomplished.  “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?” Greg McKeown inquires in his book. He offers a simple but profound idea: that we accomplish more when we are more selective about where we direct our efforts. This book was essential (hehe) for me in 2017, with all the changes and new projects.
  6. Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic  Implications of Piaget’s Theory by Constance Kamii,‎ Leslie Baker Housman   Preschoolers easily grasp ideas behind fractions,  number lines, geometry and algebra elements. I see 3, 4 and 5 year olds exploring difficult concepts and taking on the challenges. Silly kids, they weren’t told yet that they hate math!
    Kids love the challenge of games. Why not use this attribute and incorporate games into learning? Instead of using endless worksheets and tests, give them problems to solve.According to Piaget’s theory, “children acquire mathematical knowledge…by constructing them from the inside, in interaction with the environment,” in other words, given the chance to explore and experiment, they will use their knowledge to  invent new ways to find solutions, explore patterns and make connections.  Let’s make math fun!
  7.  The Martian and Artemis by Andy Weir
    Andy Weir’s unique writing style, humor, meticulous research come together in well thought out, interesting, well paced page-turners. Once I picked up his books, I couldn’t put them down. Sleep? Who needs sleep, sleep is for the weak!
  8.  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor. Such a beautiful and gripping story. This is one of those books that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
  9.  Maisie Dobbs  After reading the first novel, I was very excited to find out that Jacqueline Winspear published thirteen books in the series.  A quick, light mystery with an engaging main character set in England in 1929. I would love to see this as  a TV show!
  10. Wonder by R. J. Palacio  August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.
    Oh, what a wonderful book!!!! Well-written, touching, emotional and meaningful, this book become 2017 favorite instantly. We read it 4 (four!!!!) time. Our peculiar son fell in love with main character. I think he identifies with Auggie. You see, our eldest is 5 years old and since he was 18 months old we kept saying “His brain just works differently”. He absorbs every bit of information and remembers it FOR-E-VER, his vocabulary surprises and amazes us every day, he skipped 2 grades already, he adores everybody he meets. He is also very sensitive, VERY intense, VERY unpredictable. Parenting him is not easy, traditional parenting did not work with him and only deepened his anxiety. 80% of the time he can pass for a neurotypical kid, so when the atypical behavior kicks in, it is usually attributed to him being “spoiled” or “coddled.”
    **********SPOILER ALERT**********
    This book also helped us deal with a loss similar to that of August’s family. Loss of a beloved pet was (and still is) incredibly painful, and Daisy’s storyline helped our kids understand and cope with the devastating loss of a four-legged family member.

What books grabbed your heart and stayed with you in 2017? Share in the comments! 2018 is almost here and I NEED more, more, more reading material! Always.

 

GAMES as an educational tool

November is here!!!! Yay! Two little Batmen hyped up on sugar, with Halloween hangover are going to LOVE strict schedule, worksheets and memorization drills!

Brb, dying laughing at my own joke. They most definitely would NOT love that. 

I expect today to be a complete chaos full of sensory overload, sugar and dyes aftermath: two silly boys and the dog bouncing of the walls, exhibiting all of their Dabrovsky’s overexcitabilities simultaneously. Day like this is perfect to start My Little Poppies’ Gameschool Mini-challenge. 31 days, 31 prompts, pictures, 31 ways to add more sneaky learning to our days.

We are eclectic and heavily influenced by unschooling. I often describe our homeschooling style as falling down the rabbit holes (read more about it here.) Games have always been a part of our day.  These are some of the reasons we enjoy gameschooling.

  1. Learning becomes more engaging experience. We get to travel through time and space, meet great inventors and create silly worlds, become engineers, scientists, artists or magicians. 
  2. I’m quick to point out that my 5 year old does not handle losing well, but let’s face it: losing sucks, regardless of the player’s age. Friendly (-ish) game night is perfect to practice teamwork and good sportsmanship for kids of all ages. 
  3. Kids enjoy challenge and find internal motivation to reach the goal. I recently noticed that when I try to encourage the boys by saying “Come on, this is easy!” they bristle up and refuse the work. However, when they sit down to play a videogame, I hear excited and proud shouts “That was hard, but I DID IT!!!” To my surprise, this tactic worked even for least preferred tasks (handwriting practice.)
  4. We put emphasis on problem solving in our house.  I don’t want to be a referee, judge and jury 24/7, so we encourage kids to work out problems and solve conflicts on their own.  Games are one of the resources that teaches them problem solving strategies.   
  5. While playing games, kids can improve their fluency, especially math and reading games. 

While games are great, we encountered a few difficulties along the way:

  • It can be hard to accurately assess the progress. 
  • Sometimes goals of games do not align with learning goals. ABC Mouse was a giant flop in this house! All kids cared about was collecting the tickets. They just randomly clicked on the screen, guessing answers.  
  • Family game night with kids  can be…challenging. Different personalities, ages and abilities don’t always mix well.  

    These tips and strategies emerged when Peculiar Kid #2 was born. They continue to change and evolve as family dynamic change. 

    1. House rules rule! 
    2. Whenever a new game appears at our house, kids ask me if the can “free play” it for a while:  familiarize themselves with the pieces, make guesses on what the rules may be, create elaborate backstories (I jot them down in the journal, Brave Writer style. Win/win!) This approach reduces anxiety and uncertainty that often affects perfectionistic, emotionally intense 2e kids. 
    3. “These rules are so clear and make so much sense. After reading them, I’m 100% confident I can play this game on the first try,” said no one ever. Watch play throughs!  Dice Tower and Table Top were game changers (pun intended) for our family.  
    4. I like to pair games with books, tea parties or subjects we currently study. Ancient Egypt with Pyramix, Nikola Tesla’s life and work with Circuit Maze, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang read aloud with Snakes and Ladders. 
    5. Create your own games! 
    6. Playing board games (or attempting any schoolwork) with toddlers around is hard! Families with older children can play after the littles go to bed. Letting our 2 year old in on the fun works best for our family.  While we play, he makes dice towers,  “keeps the score,” sorts cards or eats all the snacks. 
    7. Let some games be just for fun, with no learning agenda! As a homeschooling mom, I tend to turn everything into a learning opportunity. Real life example that may or may not have happened last week. “Oh, the tire pressure sensor is on! You know why? Let’s have a mini unit right here on the spot! Temperature dropped 30°F overnight, leading to decrease in tire pressure by about 3 psi (1 psi for every 10° drop. Insert long winded math discussion here,) that change triggered the sensor. Honey, are you awake?” What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, don’t turn everything you do into school project. Have some fun!!! 

    What are your tips to add more sneaky fun learning into your days? How do you keep family game night FUN for all participants? What challenges do you have and how donyou overcome them? What are your favorite games? Why am I asking so many questions? 

    School day

    Our days rarely go as planned, but we try to follow a blueprint. Sort of. 

    Every day routine includes read alouds, board games, more books, 1 topic we’re obsessed with at the moment (that usually spirals into deep rabbit holes,) at least 1 writing activity and taking care of the house.

    Once a week we try to do one community service or hospitality project, one or two field trips and one outdoor excursion. 

    Popular morning baskets aren’t a good fit in our family: we only have a few hours before overexcitabilities kick in and attention span is gone. Instead, we read a few books or magazines during breakfast.

    1. Today  Breakfast and Books (modeled after My Little Poppies’ Coffee and Books) turned into Books in Bed. We snuggled up together in little guy’s room and read whatever kids wanted. 

    2. September is the most popular birth month in America, and it’s definitely true for our family. Big kid made birthday cards for everyone, he practiced handwriting, spelling, vocabulary ,  tracing and drawing. 

    3. When your kid is as literal as Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy,) math is fun. 

    Caffeine didn’t kick in yet, and this is the best my scrambled brain could come up with on the spot. “Yuri has 2 red books. His friend has 4 blue books. How many books do the boys have?”

    The answer:

    We are juggling Math-U-See, Life of Fred and Khan academy math and anxiously checking the mailbox for brand new Beast Academy 2A. Squeeee!

    4. After years of refusing to learn Russian, my kids are finally warming up to it. First lesson  went better than expected!

    We counted letters in Russian and English alphabets, found letters that look and sound the same, read Репка (The Turnip) and learned a new song, Мишка Косолапый (Clumsy Bear.)

    5. “I’m so tired, I need to relax a little with Rush Hour!”  And Jenga, and Shape by Shape, and…a screwdriver? 

    Schoolwork is done! And now it js our favorite time, laundry time! Cleaning time! Cooking time!
    I would love to hear what your typical homeschooling day looks like!