~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ peaceful protests and a lot of alliteration

it’s been a good couple of months to be review listening to harry potter audio books, with so many themes having heightened relevance to our current events. it was quinn’s idea to listen to them again, when we finished with the heroes of olympus. while we were waiting for the order of the phoenix to come in at the library, we briefly reviewed some lemony snicket, and quinn observed, “these titles sure have a lot of alliteration.”

when he turned 10 *gasp* a month ago already, i borrowed from some of my lifelong learning notes for the birthday post, so you’ve already heard about peaceful protests, fourth person point of view, and our chatty walks up to the school building each morning.

the peaceful protests, of course, were a residual effect of his essay on martin luther king jr, an essay of which i think he is quite proud now that it is finished. he put a ton of effort into it, and i personally learned facts i hadn’t known before, such as that the day of his assassination, mlk:

“…went to Memphis, Tennessee to help black garbage collectors get the same amount of money as white garbage collectors for the same amount of work.”

i could copy and paste that snippet of his work into this post because we live in such a fancy modern age that our children can “share” their google doc essays to their mama’s email address when prompted to do so!

i went to school one friday while they were doing their martin luther king jr essays and i was circulating and helping kids. the first 10 minutes of the 45 minute class was a mindfulness breathing exercise… the teacher had them sit tall and breathe along with a drum beat for each breath, and a breathing ball (it expands and contracts) that the two team leaders handled. this was followed by a loving kindness meditation: “may i be safe and healthy… may i be happy… may i be… ” was the first of 4 rounds; second, she had them think of a person they love, and hold that person in mind and repeat “may he/she be safe…. “; third, “this one is harder… think of a person that it’s hard for you to like… “may he/she be….”; and finally, “may everyone be…” this was such a good investment of ten minutes, because the kids proceeded to spend the next 35 minutes acutely focused and getting so much accomplished on their essays. with lots of direction from her (they were working on conclusions so she provided examples of transition phrases that work well for beginning a conclusion…. and then had kids share their first sentences… then they worked on how to include the 3 main ideas of the essay in that first sentence… and went back to work on their first sentence some more… very methodical with them on actually how to write.) quinn had a ton of writing on his piece of paper, and also arrows going here and there of places he wanted to insert sentences he wrote later… the kids completely understand “drafts” and they get excited when it is time for “publishing” and writing their final drafts… he picked the right year to work on improving his writing, with such graceful guidance.


he is a certified… guacamole masher, steam mopper, fireplace filling technician!

(i clearly was unable to put a log in the wood stove, with 30 pounds of cat on my legs, so someone had to do it!)

risk and play date fun with a panda, and birthday celebrations with a koala.

beach clean-up class field trip! we found some cool rock formations including some that quinn claimed were dinosaur eggs in a nest! we filled a pretty big pile of garbage bags from our little stretch of beach.


first belt test at his new dojo! quinn earned his half yellow belt, something he was very keen to do. i appreciate sifu’s approach, and the way he tunes into the individual needs and interests of each kid. he knew and understood that quinn wanted to “collect them all” and was happy to oblige with a half belt test! quinn actually already knew almost all of his yellow belt curriculum, so his full yellow test was scheduled for soon thereafter.

this dojo is a really good fit for us. i personally enjoy the self paced curriculum, because if i feel ready for new techniques, all i have to do is ask for them. if i need more time to practice, i can take more time. i am not lumped in with a group all trying to advance at the same pace, and yet somehow teaching everyone new individual techniques does not seem to become unmanageable even with large class sizes. i am trying to use as many opportunities in life right now to help quinn learn to assert himself in positive ways, to advocate especially for what he wants to learn. since our debut in public school, i have wanted to reinforce his right to self-direction in his learning choices. in the conversations we’re having about learning, i keep trying to set the tone that what he wants matters, and that speaking up about it is always a good choice, even if his wishes can’t be accommodated right away. he is getting to practice that in his karate pursuit, and i am glad for the parallel to his schooling that i can point to as an example.

creative reading postures; eye rolling

a visit from ruby tuesday! she’ll even hop up on his loft bed with him to snuggle him into bed at night. we are so lucky to be her fairy dog family.

games! playing games with panda, playing games with grammie e, who recently added quinn into the weekly rotation of her grandkids so he could play games with her and have some undivided attention. they played monopoly for their first round. when he’s not playing games, he’s usually making games…

some recent game themes included wilderness survival, owl evolution, battle islands, an angry birds spinoff, and a few others that he didn’t not have fully developed or named yet. graph paper!!!

most of his peaceful protests had to do with bringing graph paper, pencil and markers along to work on a game design. he also made some new “elements game” cards one afternoon, based on magic the gathering, but with his own spin. i was glad i had already turned on google safe search when he started google image searching terms like “mermaid queen.” all of the mermaid queens he found were fully dressed, thank goodness!

it will be fun to find out how this game is played!

one of our vacation house roommates came to visit! he hadn’t been to our new house so we got to give him a tour and feed him dinner and treat him to our air mattress. he brought a king cake for dessert (awesomeness, straight from NOLA) and i made soup and bread for dinner and we all ate and got caught up. we told him he needs to bring his other half and come back in july for a get together we’re having. we also showed him the bayou, the name of which was of course inspired by our new orleans roomies.

after dinner we got out the king cake which had a warning label “inedible baby figurine included” or something to that effect. they don’t hide the baby in the cake anymore because of litigation so the baby was sitting inside the wrapper. i took it over to the counter and hid the baby under a piece that had green sugar on the frosting, thinking quinn would want a green piece, so maybe he would get the baby. (if you have never had king cake this all sounds incredibly ridiculous!) i brought it back over and handed rich the knife and he asked quinn what color he wanted. quinn said green, and rich cut the exact piece where i had put the baby (which was a long shot!) and the baby popped out as he was putting it on the plate. lots of laughing, quinn was happy he got the baby, and our friend told stories about king cakes he’s eaten in the past; how some high end places use gold babies, and how his cub scout leader had a king cake one time with 15 babies in it so all the kids got a baby and it was a fun surprise, and several other funny scenarios involving king cake.

our friend had been tracing the geneaology of his family, who it turns out have been living in the 9th ward for something like 8 generations. he has been visiting old family homes, graves, and digging through old microfiches to trace family members back even farther. we were talking about the naming conventions of various family members and he would say to quinn, so who is your grandfather’s son (and quinn would answer, um…. my uncle) and then it got more tricky and there was a discussion of what “once removed” means in cousin terminology. i told the story of how luigi always called q “cousin quinn”, and that one time when we went to visit when q was 5 and luigi 4 and i was coaching them on being kind to each other “after all, you’re cousins” and luigi saying, “wait, i’m a cousin?!” mind blown. that led to principles of family like “you can’t have a cousin without being a cousin” and you can’t have a sibling without being a sibling, and quinn was coming up with more. then we talked about how it applies to friends too, but can you have a friend without being a friend? that was discussed, but then it got silly with “but what if the second friend is really a spy, and only acting like a friend to extract information from the first friend…” so then to be even sillier i asked, “well then what if the first friend is a double agent” and then it was “oh yeah, what if the second friend is a triple agent?” and by this time we were all giggling hysterically at the table, to quadruple and quintuple agents, and beyond.

when our friend asked quinn about school, quinn said they are learning mostly about martin luther king jr. right now, and also about native americans. he told us all how their land was taken away, and talked about the sioux and knew where in the country to point to on the map of where their land was, and didn’t know what states’ names that corresponds to now, so he went to look for an atlas, and wandered away. i went and found him after a while and he was on his bed reading calvin and hobbes. we looked at an atlas together and he pointed right to the dakotas, with an “oh yeah, that’s right.” i am glad to know he is learning such things right now. i got him a young peoples’ history of the u.s. on audio cd (howard zinn), one of his stocking presents for christmas and i think he will get into it once he starts. knowing how he absorbs auditory information, he will be an american history expert (from the zinn perspective) in no time.

i chaperoned a field trip to the art department at the local community college. the kids had all prepared a drawing they would use to carve and print a linocut, so they set about carving right away. this was full of ups and downs for a few of the kids who struggle a bit with perfectionism. not that i  know anything about that. at one point he wanted to give up and felt he had ruined the whole thing, but as he worked through it, he found equanimity again, and then he tried a print even though he wasn’t finished carving and beamed, and said, “it looks like an old black and white photograph!!”

using the brayer; printing his first draft

pleased with his print

“just like an old black and white photograph!” i guess i’m not the only one in this family who likes spirals… i quite like the way this spiral has a beam of light shining out of it, and even if he continues to carve away the rest of the outer portion, i will treasure this first print.

recently the name “the happy spot” has come back into vogue; lately he likes to get cozy in my chair with my laptop and my heating pad on the low setting… often it is his first activity upon arriving home from his dad’s week.

he started back up studying computer programming on khan academy and got caught back up to the point where he left off a year or so ago in one night. after that quick review he moved forward. this was a totally self motivated effort.

in the department of “life lessons we wish we didn’t need to learn” these past few months, one of the teachers quinn had for walk to math last year in third grade was arrested for sexually assaulting a teen minor at a summer camp. the teacher had already left quinn’s school, and was now teaching in a different county, and so our school system did not even appear to address it, which was disheartening. for my part, i discussed it with quinn, preferring him to hear about it from me rather than from classmates (i heard about it via facebook, where a friend had originally learned of it from her 6th grader reading the online news article aloud at the breakfast table (!), so i felt it was safe to assume it was going to circulate around school), and we sat together and read the brief few pages in it’s perfectly normal that cover the things that are not normal or okay when done by an adult to a child. i had just recently ordered this book, since we had the 7 and up book it’s so amazing but are now approaching 10!

the song happy by pharrell williams came on the radio on a random weekend day when we had npr on the radio. quinn loves listening to all of those shows (wait wait don’t tell me, radio lab) and laughs at the political jokes. happy came on and quinn was singing all the words and rich and i made eye contact over his head and grinned as we do when stuff like that happens.

he’s getting so big… he has favorite songs he knows the lyrics to…

he got past the part where leslie dies in bridge to terebithia.

he has inside jokes with me like “whatever sleet is.”

karate is a fun long evening twice a week, and i feel good about the time we’ve spent every time i’m leaving there. he is learning a lot in sparring, which in this dojo has a lot to do with control vs pummeling your opponent, and he is finding he likes working with some of the adult class green belts because they teach him while they spar.

one day quinn and i were all by ourselves for a day class, and he got to go through all of his moves for his full yellow belt test. he had fixed one foot maneuver sifu had worked on with him in his short one form, and sifu noticed that he had fixed it and said “i’d give you your belt just for that.” that was a nice acknowledgement of quinn’s attention to detail.

and the full yellow test was again a success! this time he tested with a friend, and they both did a wonderful job. and better yet, they left feeling like they knew they had done well, their hard work had been affirmed and encouraged.

valentine’s day; excuse for dorkery in the kitchen and receiving handmade cards!

some random learning moments this month; listening to his friend read to him (as part of their daily 5 reading program, i think quinn has probably helped this one boy with his reading quite a bit this school year, by being such a loyal listener and patient decoding helper. plus they are awfully cute sitting in their camp chair together. we also attended a fun movie night at the dojo, to which each and every student brought their fuzzy fleece blanket. before the show, board games were played, which of course is always a good time for quinn! he even got to eat an off-brand lunchable, poor deprived child that he is, he has had precious few of them in his lifetime, like possibly only one other one, but i succumbed to his special request.

and then he turned ten….

his birthday weekend was nice, and not stressful. by deciding to keep it simple, i ended up free to make it fancier. he helped, and it was so low key that i could have fun and be creative. the pizza pokeball and the type symbols on the veggies were last minute add-ons, because i had time to sit around and briefly google “pokemon party.” quinn set up the pokemon figures, and also decided he liked my balloon curtain idea, so he hung 4 out of 5 of them, after i hung up the first.

the boys played outside quite a bit, and would come in and do pokemon and legos and stuff in between. quinn got a minecraft medieval fortress book from grammy and grampy and that was his favorite. for a while they played minecraft, and then they would revisit the table and load up on more pizza and veggies. the three of us sang to quinn and he joined in singing to himself and laughed, and then he made his wish and we ate cupcakes. we put on a movie in the evening so the boys could transition to inside voices. we watched indian in the cupboard  since they’re both familiar with the book.

then they went to bed and read and drew and talked. i turned the light off at 9 or so, and they fell asleep 9:30ish. not too bad, they were actually noisier the next morning.

it’s wild that he’s 10 and having sleepovers…

he hasn’t parted with the minecraft book (it rode to school in the car with us several mornings) so that definitely won best present. he does like his jedi robe though, and he was listening to music on his mp3 player morning while he got dressed for school. because he’s happy… “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.

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