Tag Archives: fun

M&M Time

So tomorrow is my first day back to work after 4 days off. Rachel had to go back to work on Tuesday , so I was lucky enough to have one on one time with Max. Because of work, school, sports, and life in general, these moments of one on one time are all too infrequent. I’m genuinely bummed, and will really miss being able to spend the whole day with Max tomorrow.

Instead of fun trips to the park, playing board games, swimming, bowling, skating, and working on projects around the house, I’ll be back to “slaying the dragon” at my desk at work. Doing uninspiring stuff like monitoring routers, installing software and deploying new servers and replying to e-mails. It’s very sad that in this “modern age”, in order to provide for our children, it often means spending lots of time away from them. No wonder society has so many problems.

I’m fortunate that my work schedule is pretty flexible. And I probably get to spend a lot more time with Max, than other parents. But since these moments where we genuinely enjoy each others company are so fleeting, it seems like there is never enough. I know the days when I am annoying, or embarrassing to Max are just around the corner. So the fact that Max loves spending time with me, and me with him, is very special to me.

One of the things I love most about spending time with Max, is listening to him talk. I get a huge thrill when he asks questions, and shows interest in how things work, and how he tries to get a better understanding about the world around him. His curiosity is so interesting to me. I’ve heard people say that parenthood is as much of an education for the parent, as it is for the child. And I didn’t quite know what people meant by that at first, but now I totally get it.

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Mid Summer Check In

So the summer is about half way done. Max starts school in about 4 weeks. I thought it would be a good time to write. So far the summer has been great. It’s nice not having a rigid schedule like we do during the school year. Max enjoys staying up later. And it’s nice not running from ball field to ball field for games and practices. Although fall baseball starts up in just a few weeks.

Staying up later, and late sunsets have allowed us to do some late night swimming, toad/frog hunting, and firefly catching. Thankfully, Max hasn’t been as adiment this year about catching slugs. Last summer he was obsessed with slugs and snails. They are so gross and slimy, I really don’t like them at all. I have to admit that catching the toads has been kind of fun. We wait till about 9PM and we head out with flashlights and headlamps and a small plastic habitat. There have been nights where we searched for an hour and found nothing. There have been nights when we find 2 toads in the first 5 minutes. We usually catch them, Max observes them, we take photos, and then the next morning we release them.

We’ve also done a bit of stargazing. Last week, a co-worker mentioned the International Space Station. And I remembered that I had an app on my phone that tracks the ISS, and alerts when it is nearby and visable. So I re-enabled the alarms. Sure enought around 9PM on Friday night, I got an alert that the ISS would be passing by in 5 minutes. Rachel, Max and I headed out to take a look. About 9:05, we saw a small dot in the distance. In a few minutes the dot became bigger and easier to see. It was the ISS! That same night, we also saw a shooting star and the awesomely bright “blue moon”.

Max and I have gotten really close this summer. Sometimes with school, and sports, it seems like all we do is run around. It’s been nice, spending quality time with him this whole summer. Instead of running around from place to place, we have been leisurely doing different things. Like neighborhood bike rides, swimming, playing with water balloons, and gardening. In the spring, I saw a cool YouTube video about “earth buckets”. They are 5 gallon buckets that you use to grow vegetables. You drill a series of small holes and put a net pot on the bottom. The water wicks up through the holes and into the wicking cup which provides the perfect amount of water to the roots. I watched a few videos and kind of pieced the best aspects of each together and we built 5 of these buckets. We used 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot. We planted two types of tomatoes (roma and grape), two buckets with cucumbers, and 1 with bell peppers. We’ve had varying rates of success. The cucumbers have grown a little too well. They have gotten so large, that they are hard to manage. The roma tomatoes looked promising. The plant grew very full and had lots of flowers. However, as the tomatoes formed and then ripened, most of them got a dark black spot on them like they rotted. We’ve been picking them before they fully ripen, and that seems to help. So far we’ve gotten about 2 dozen roma tomatoes. About 15 cucumbers, and about 10 peppers. The grape tomatoes have grown amazingly well. We’ve probably gotten close to 100 tomatoes from that plant. The plant is huge and has dozens of flowers still. It’s been producing fruit for 6 weeks now. It’s been a fun project to do with Max. He enjoys watering the plants and checking for new vegetables each day. And since he loved cucumbers, he has enjoyed eating the “fruits” of his labor. Next year, I plan on doing these again. Maybe try some other fruits and vegetables.

Max has also had some fun playdates with some of his friends from his baseball team, and school, and he even got together with his friend Brody that he went to pre-school with. Max and I have always been close. But sometimes when we are super busy, we focus more on the activities and less on each other. It’s nice that he is now at the age where we can have conversations, and I can teach him things, and we can share laughs together. I love the way he giggles when I chase him in the pool when we play “water tag”, and when I make “monster waves” in the pool. It’s also funny watching as his sense of humor develops.

Max has also taken a real liking to skating. He goes roller skating almost every week. The local roller rink has fun summer events for the kids, so he got to skate with the Minions, did a “super hero skate”, and some other cool open skate events. He also tried ice skating again when we were on vacation. He’s definitely better and more comfortable on roller skates, but seems to enjoy doing both. The local ice rink has open skating, so I would like to take him a few times so he can continue to practice and get better. Max and I also tried rock climbing for the first time at this cool indoor facility. Max took a real liking to this as well. Rachel’s brother used to rock climb, so the next time we go, we will take him along so he can give us some pointers. It’s fun watching Max try things, and of course, it’s fun when I can try them along with him. I’m enjoying all of this immensely. The time will come, when Max doesn’t want to do things with Dad anymore, and will want to do more with his friends. So I’m happy that he still likes doing stuff with me and has fun while doing it. And we live in an amazing time, where we have cameras and social media to capture and share it all.

Gingerbread Men

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The other night after dinner, it was already dark outside, so we were looking for something to do inside. Rachel had a headache, so it needed to be quiet. I remembered that we had picked up a Gingerbread man ornament kit a few weeks back. So I got the stuff out and Max and I began.

We started attaching the little foam pieces, like the eyes, scarf, buttons etc using white glue. After had nearly completed the first one I discovered there were little double sided sticky tabs included, which made the whole process easier and a lot less messy. They came out pretty cute. After they were done drying, I asked Max to write his name on the back. Then I added the year, and age 6 on the back of the ornament. Max asked me what I wrote. After I answered him, he grabbed a pen, and wrote “Dad age 40” on the back of my ornament. hehe 

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Teach your children and you may learn something too…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about “Common Core” standards. These are standards that define what students should understand and be able to do at each grade level from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It also provides as a good checklist to make sure a child is ready for the next grade level. It’s a very interesting subject, and I’m endlessly fascinated and a little saddened by it.

Why am I saddened by it? Well, I think a lot of the preliminary skills are things that a child should already know, and learn at home. If parents took time to talk with their children, explain the world around them and answer the questions kids have, a lot of these concepts should be second nature and come naturally.

One of the things I’ve always been big on, is making Max learn things without him even realizing he’s learning. Like playing BINGO. It not only teaches a child their numbers from 1-75, but it also teaches kids plotting on a graph, a skill Max has been working on in school. Max played BINGO with his two older cousins and he loved it. Santa brought him own BINGO set for Christmas. The first week or two we played, he would call out the numbers like N three one instead of N thirty one. But after hearing me call the numbers out properly, in a few weeks time, he was doing it correctly all by himself. It doesn’t matter if he’s putting the little plastic dots down on the card or calling the numbers, there is an opportunity to learn. 

Another thing I love doing with Max is multi sensory activities. Things that require tactile interaction as well as sight and sound. Research shows that kids learn faster and easier when multiple senses are engaged at once. Something Max has been doing since he’s about 3 or 4 is counting and separating objects. You don’t need some fancy, expensive toy by Melissa and Doug or FAO Schwartz to do this sort of thing either. We used Fruit Loops. Yes, we’re monsters who feed our son sugary cereal. Anyway, grab a handful of Fruit Loops and put them on the table. Separate the red ones into a small pile. Then do the same with the blue and the green and the yellow and so on. This teaches them colors, counting, sorting and recognizing differences. Another concept that is one of the core standards for kindergarten. Once they see you do it a few times, they will want to try and before you know it, they’ll be doing it themselves and probably eating a few of the Fruit Loops along the way. A good way to teach subtraction :-).

I get the same sense of sadness when I see some of the kids on Max’s t-ball team. Week 1, no-one expects the kids to be Derek Jeter. Most of the kids don’t know how to hold the bat or ball the right way, and they may get confused about which base they run to after they hit. That is to be expected. What kills me is when I see a child who still doesn’t hold the bat correctly and who doesn’t know the basics of throwing the ball during the last game of the season. It means their parents didn’t spend any time reinforcing the basics. Sadly I think it’s just an hour a week where they can dump off their kids and make someone else take care of them. How hard is it to spend a few minutes a day tossing the ball around with your child? Or sitting down and watching a baseball game with them on TV to explain why the players are doing what they are doing. It’s really simple and a great way to bond with your son or daughter and have a shared interest.

Here are a few of the common core standards for Kindergarten that I think just about every child should know without much help from the teacher:

1) With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details. This is a really easy concept to practice with your child. Ask them how their day was and have them tell a story about what they did or what they saw.

2) With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story. This one is pretty simple tpp, and maybe my technique isn’t the textbook way of doing it, but I think it would work just fine. Let your child watch a show regularly. Disney and Nickelodeon have great kid friendly shows. Overtime they will learn the names and characteristics of each character. Then at the end of the show, ask them simple questions about what happened during the episode. Why was Teddy sad? What was Bob mad at Gabe? Where did Max and Ruby go on vacation?

3) ) Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book.
Sit down and read your child a book. Then ask them to draw a picture based on what the story was about. The artistic quality of the picture and whether they use pen, pencil, crayon, markers, etc isn’t important. What is important is just making sure that what they draw reflects what actually happened in the story. If there is a horse in the story and they draw the horse and color it blue, it doesn’t matter. As long as they identify the name of the horse and the significance of the character in the book.

4) Recognize and pronounce rhyming words. Three simple words Dr-Seuss Books! It doesn’t get much easier than that. Or just make up a silly rhyming song when you are shampooing their hair at night. 

5) Understand and use question words (interrogatives) (e.g., who, what, where, when, why, how). Again this is all about listening to your son or daughter. Kids are naturally curious. Don’t give them snippy answers like “Because!” or “It just is”. When they ask a question, actually answer the question and make the child feel comfortable to ask other questions. Remember the world around them is all very new to them. So things we take for granted can be quite fascinating. And hey you may even get stumped and have to look the answer up yourself. For example, last weekend we saw a blimp flying over our neighborhood. Max was very excited to see it and asked me and Rachel how does a blimp land since it doesn’t have wings or wheels like a plane. I honestly wasn’t sure how it landed, so I look up “How does a blimp land” into Google and sure enough there was video of the Goodyear Blimp landing. We watched it together and both learned something.

The same can be said for math. The chance to teach are all around you.

1) Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object. Go on a walk in the woods or in the park and have kids collect things that are wide, skinny, long, heavy and light. It gives them a sense of all the properties an object has. They may not know what volume, area and perimeter mean, but if they know the concepts about height, weight, depth etc, it will make things like figuring out area that much easier. When you are driving in the car, make up a little game and ask them things like “Which is taller, an elephant or a giraffe”. Which one is heavier? Name an animal that has fur. Name an animal that has a tail. Name an animal that lives on a farm. Hand them different items like a rock, an acorn, a leaf and a stick and ask them to describe each item. Is it heavy? Is it smooth? Is it rough? 

2) Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1). Get a couple of dice and have them them. If they roll 4 and 2, have them add the total up and ask them another way to make 6. Give them some coins and see how many different ways you can make a dollar using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

3) Solve addition and subtraction word problems, and add and subtract within 10, e.g., by using objects or drawings to represent the problem. Really easy, if they are eating Oreos give them 3 Oreos and after they eat one, ask them how many are left. That’s a word problem in it’s simplest form. If John has 3 cookies and eats one, how many are left?

I can go on and on, but I’d just be repeating myself. My point it, let kids be kids. Let them play, let them watch cartoons, let them be free to explore. But play doesn’t have to be mindless. Lessons can be learned. Think about what you are doing with your child and ask yourself is there is something that can be learned. There’s a very good chance there is. 

Worm Farm

One of Max’s favorite things to do in the spring is to dig up worms. He’s been doing it for as long as I can remember. In years past, he would dig the worms up, collect them in a cup filled with dirt and after a few days, the worms would either drown because he added too much water, or they would dry up and die because he didn’t add enough water. So this year, I started doing some reading and discovered that a great way to keep worms skin moist (which they need in order to breathe), is by setting shredding newspaper. The newspaper remains moist, but not soaked, so it provides a nice environment for the worms.

After reading about the newspaper, I followed a couple of related links, and found out about something called worm farms and worm tea. Essentially what a worm farm is, is a series of containers stacked on top of one another, to make a sort of compost heap. Some people use wood crates, some people use metal trash cans, but the most common material seems to be either Styrofoam coolers or plastic storage bins.

The weather here has remained unseasonably cool, so there haven’t been a lot of worms yet. I thought it would be good to try a small worm farm at first, so yesterday I went to Target and got a couple of small, plastic, shoe box sized storage bins. I thought it would be right up Max’s alley, so after dinner, we got out the bins and started constructing our mini worm farm out in the garage.

We began by drilling a series of small 3/8 inch holes in the bottom of the bin. This provides drainage so that excess water can drip into the bin below it. Then we drilled the same pattern of holes on the lid. This is to provide oxygen to the worms. Next, we took some pieces of newspaper and shredded them in our paper shredder. This makes nice, uniform pieces of paper to act as the bedding for the worms. Then we sprinkled a little organic potting soil on top of the newspaper and added a 2nd layer of shredded newspaper. Then we added some of the worms that we had caught over the past week. We sprinkled some dry oats on top, then we took a spray bottle and moistened everything inside. Finally, we added a piece of moist corrugated cardboard on top of the paper bedding. Then we placed our worm farm, inside of a second bin of the same size. This bin remained whole, with no holes drilled in it. This will catch any of the debris that falls through the small drainage holes.

Now on a large scale worm farm, it can accommodate hundreds, even thousands of worms. So far we only have about two dozen in our small scale farm. In a larger scale worm farm, you are supposed to add table scraps like coffee grinds, shredded vegetables, and ground up egg shells. This acts as food for the worms. They break it down, and it turns into compost. Worm tea is produced, which is a nutrient rich liquid that is formed as the carbon based objects like the newspaper, table scraps, cardboard etc get broken down. Over time, the food scraps and paper break down and make nutrient rich soil as well. It’s supposed to be great to use in house plants, and with vegetable and herb gardens. And worms reproduce rather quickly, so if you had hundreds of worms, as the older ones die off, you should have a steady supply of new ones. So all you have to do is keep adding more table scraps and newspaper, occasionally moisten things up, and the worms do the rest of the work.

I don’t think we will be able to collect enough worms to fill a large 10 gallon storage bin, so we will probably order some worms online and have them shipped. Plus, we can order a variety of different worms (red wigglers, super red worms, nightcrawlers and euro red wigglers), which I think Max would enjoy observing. The weather is supposed to finally warm up over the weekend, so as we collect more worms, we’ll keep adding them to our mini worm farm for now. If things go well with it, then I may order some worms online and construct a larger scale worm farm.

I was concerned about the smell and attracting bugs, but all the articles I read online say that as long as you bury the scraps of food and don’t let it linger at the top, there are no problems with smell or attracting unwanted bugs. I think it will be a fun experiment for Max and I to do over the spring and summer months.

Oobleck

Last week at school, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Max and his class made oobleck. The ooey, gooey, green precipitation from the Dr. Seuss classic “Bartholomew and the Oobleck“. It left a lasting impression on Max, because he kept talking about how cool it was. He’s always been fond of squishing things between his fingers since he was a baby. Whether it be sand at the beach, mud in the garden, or some good old Play Doh or Gak, he’s very much into all things tactile.

So I found a few recipes online and picked up the cornstarch and food coloring we needed. On Sunday we dumped the ingredients into a 2 quart container and starting mixing things together. It was tough to get the consistency right at first. The general guideline was to use 1.5 cups of cornstarch and a cup of water. This ratio made things way too dry, or maybe my scoops of cornstarch were too heaping. So eventually I just dumped the entire 16 ounce package of cornstarch into the tub and started adding water. Eventually we got it to the perfect consistency.

Oobleck is described as being a “non Newtonian” fluid. So you can pick up as a solid, and once it’s in your hand, it turns into a drippy liquid, similar to cake or waffle batter. It was cool enough like that, but once we added some blue and yellow food coloring, it got even cooler. Max was having a blast. Need to figure out a better way of mixing the food coloring in though. Both of our hands were stained when we were done playing. It was like were were going through the Hulk transformation.

It’s cheap (Cornstarch was about $1 at Walmart and the 2 quart container was about $2), educational, and lots of fun. Once the weather gets warmer, we may make a bigger batch outside.

Unfortunately my hands were too messy to take any pictures. Next time we make it, I will try to take some photos.

Fall for Fairfax

The past three years, we have taken Max to the “Fall for Fairfax” celebration. The weather this year was absolutely perfect. About 82 degrees and sunny. After the rain and cold we experienced last year, it was great to see such lovely weather.

In years past, we pretty much stuck to all the free stuff. Max was still kind of young, and scared of the rides and attractions. This year was completely different. Thanks to playing Carnival Games on the Wii, Max wanted to try every game they had. His favorites seemed to be the shooting gallery and the dart toss.

The shooting gallery was really cool because they used these old toy rifles that shot corks. I had one just like it when I was kid. The targets were red Solo cups. Max has a pretty steady hand and good eye from shooting his Nerf guns. He hit the cups just about every time, but because the corks are light, if you hit the bottom of the cup, the cup just sort of slid and didn’t tip over. Eventually he ended up knocking over three cups and picked 3 harmonicas as his prizes.

The dart toss is one of his favorites on the Wii and he seemed to love the real thing as well. There are different sized and colored balloons up on a wooden board. Max was given three darts. Pop 1 balloon, you get a small prize, 2 balloons and medium prize and if he got all 3, he would get a large prize. The first dart he threw was a bullseye and popped the balloon. The 2nd, sort of wobbled out of his hand and bounced off the balloons. The last went high and missed the balloon he was aiming for. So he settled for a small prize. I think it was a small plush shark.

Then we tried the basketball toss. It looked like the hoop was really high, so we were hesitant to try. The girl running the booth said Max could stand on the little podium and shoot from there. Three balls for $5.00. His first shot bounced off the rim. The 2nd went in perfectly. Nothing but net! The 3rd hit the rim and bounced off. Max’s prize? This GIGANTIC inflatable bat. He saw a boy carrying one when we first walked in and was so excited to get one of his own.

At $5.00 a pop, the games were getting kind of expensive. So we bought $20 worth of tickets for the rides. Max eyed the potato sack slide. He’s under 48 inches, so he had to be accompanied by a parent. I asked him if he wanted to go on the slide with Mommy or Daddy and he smiled and pointed at me. I’m not a big fan of heights or rides, but hey, I couldn’t look like a wuss in front of my boy. We grabbed a sack and climbed the stairs to the top. When we reached the top, I sat on the sack, then had Max sit on my lap. The slide was hard plastic and had a series of ups and downs that looked sort of like waves. I was surprised at how much speed we picked up at the top. I was holding on to Max for dear life. When we got to the bottom, Max jumped up and said “Lets do it again!” So we went down a 2nd time. Not quite as scary the 2nd time.

The next hour or so, Max played in various moon bounces, visited the petting zoo area, stuffed a scarecrow, and went on a pony ride. On the way in, we saw this cool looking bungy jump zone. They had these harnesses they hooked you into that were attached to bungee cords. At each station, they had a “plastic pillow” that you could jump on to launch yourself up. When Max saw it on the way in, he said he didn’t want to do it. On the way out, he stopped and looked at it again so Rachel asked if he wanted to do it. He said he did, so we got in line. I half expected him to “chicken out” as we neared the front of the line. But I think seeing kids around his age doing it put him at ease. When it was his turn to go, he did pretty well. He probably got himself about 12-15 feet in the air. A few of the older kids were doing backflips, which he was desperately trying to do, but couldn’t quite figure out.

It was a pretty great family day. I love this time of year, so looking forward to finding some more outdoor fall stuff to do this weekend!