~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ turrets and portcullises

minecraft fortress building was a frequent occupation these past two months. quinn has also been inspired to build games in scratch, making use of a book fair purchase to familiarize with how to use code within the scratch framework to generate a game.


birthday books; on the right, an excellent story called eagle boy that i found at our local book store.

contemplating fortress features (like hidden sky libraries) with kitty ball.

mission control; where the scratch games are made, as well as some of the minecraft work accomplished. the head lamp slays me.

we cleared off a small area of his desktop so his piper can fit there, alongside a story cd. (he was listening to harry potter and the deathly hallows). i asked him if he felt he had figured out how to work in scratch, how to use the various commands.

“the only one i don’t know what it does yet is pen.”

“have you ever just played around with the commands and figured out what they do?” i asked.

“yeah! i figured out how to make someone jump! you go “face in direction zero (which is up) and then say move 5 steps then wait 1 second, then face in direction 180 (which is down) and then move five steps. and you actually JUMP!

“…and i know how to make gravity.”

he made his “first game ever” called whale saver, in which you have to click the space bar quickly enough to get the mama whale across the screen to the baby whale. if you are too slow, the mama whale drifts towards the left, and you lose if she gets all the way to the left and her thought bubble reads “defeat”; if she makes it to the baby, her thought bubble reads, “victory!”

then he made it more difficult by adding a shark that the mama whale has to out swim in order to reach the baby whale before the shark does.

we have an ongoing discussion concerning cool math games, and before he played it one day, we talked about using it to research how parts of a game work together, with his new perspective of game making in scratch, i.e. how you make it look like a penguin is swimming even if he is in the middle of the screen, by making other objects move past the penguin. though in my opinion there is nothing cool and a negligible amount of math embedded in cool math games, a site which i resent the schools promoting because of its blatant ads targeting kids and its ability to require restarting my computer, i am trying to find the middle ground between adamant disapproval of (big air quotes) cool math games and finding some redeeming value since it is obviously something quinn enjoys. reverting back to my principles, i asked how can we use even this despicable platform as a tool for learning?


he came home pretty psyched about his tag program one afternoon, just absolutely buzzing with inspiration about automata. they are going to build automata. i played dumb and asked what’s an automaton? he regurgitated the definition, understood what it meant, and was able to discuss it critically, such as when i asked “ok, so what makes it different from a robot?” we ended up watching some of the you tube videos he had seen in class, finishing up with the TED talk of theo jansen, which quinn subsequently reenacted, listing each adaptation that was added to each new iteration of strandbeest. his capacity to memorize reminds me of my ten year old self, while my 39 year old self has trouble remembering where i parked.

raspberry storytelling.

becoming entrusted with more dangerous kitchen jobs; serrated knife use, birthday candle transportation, and (the incredibly risky) making of guacamole.

shown above, his finished essay on martin luther king, jr., plus a collection of notes and research on the subject. one worksheet (most of which was empty, classic quinn) contained a space to write one connection made during reading/research on mlk where quinn had written “martin and i both are as non-violent as possible.”


we’ve been getting outdoors between bouts of rain. when we trek to the bayou, we sometimes catch imaginary pokemon; other times we observe trilliums, trout lilies, the flora and fauna. he was compelled to do some irl minecraft brick laying. i was intrigued to realize that he understood to alternate the way the bricks are oriented so their seams are offset in each layer. play is never pointless.

his class took a field trip to cape perpetua. we hiked, wrote and drew in nature journals, did a visitor’s center scavenger hunt, and hiked some more. our final hiking destination was the giant spruce, under whose roots the whole class crawled. walking together alongside a stream, quinn and i brainstormed descriptive language; gushing slushing sploshing galoshing giggling clapping hooshing whooshing shhhhhh… were just a few i can recall, describing our impressions of the different character of various sections.

he fell asleep on my lap on the return bus trip to school.

the library hatched a batch of baby salmon, so we stopped and paid them a visit.

baseball! i am surely biased, but i believe that quinn has very good aim, and i adore his pitching style of raising his left arm as though to place his pitch where he wants it. he has been practicing archery since he was quite small, and i noticed that when he began learning to use throwing stars, he aimed well with them, too. we are looking forward to more throwing stars, nunchucks, eskrima sticks, and bo staff classes that are going to be happening soon at our dojo.

quinn worked diligently on a birthday present for the baseball buddy pictured above (aka panda)… his very own pokemon collection. quinn sorted through his own binder to find cards of which he had duplicates, to put together a pretty awesome starter collection. he put them in a binder for panda, colored the front and back covers (raichu and greninja, panda’s faves) and he was very excited about giving him his gift.

earth day! more (slightly unfinished) school artwork.

one day when i was volunteering, quinn’s class discussed and voted on several topics, items that had been submitted to the suggestion box. one was written by quinn about rotating between play porch, gym and classroom when brain break has to happen somewhere other than the playground due to rain. his suggestion was the one voted into effect, after careful consideration of pros and cons of each alternative. their discussions are amazing to behold. (“who can show proof of listening to jasmine, and add to what she said; do you agree or disagree… because…” were some of the prompts the kids are accustomed to receiving.) they also voted on saving spots in the classroom for work (this was sorted out in all its nuances of when it is and is not okay to save spots), as well as whether to do yoga both at the beginning and end of the day (they already do it at the beginning) and they did institute an end of the day yoga session by majority vote.

quinn was pretty elated when his suggestion about brain break won in a landslide.

we also got to do a yoga session while i was there. quinn asked if we could order a set of the yoga cards for home, “so i can teach you yoga.” so we ordered some! we have done quite a few sessions so far. as yoga has been an incredible source of self care, solace, exercise and healing in my own life, i am quite pleased to see quinn embracing this positive practice.

feeding ice cream for mama’s birthday to the family of camp boss. beautiful sunny day to play with friends!

easter egg dying and hunting, and a fun (belated) easter basket when he got back from his dad’s.

one recent wendesday morning wake up (after a late bedtime due to karate then dinner then bath) was not one of my better ones (nag nag nag), so for thursday morning i decided to do a better job. when i went in he was burrowed under his grammy quilt, head and all, and my usual “good morning boo-pa-loo” song turned into more of a david attenborough narration.

“here we see a rare undescribed burrowing creature in its natural habitat. this animal has a fuzzy head and is very quiet, just before emerging from its sleeping burrow. we are hoping to catch a rare glimpse of this new species, which we shall give the name boo-pa-loo boo-pa-lee-doo, as it rises to consume one of its favorite foods; biscuits. with any luck, the aroma of the biscuits will entice the creature out of its sleeping burrow at any moment.”

for some reason, that worked better. it was easy to then coax each appendage out of the sleeping burrow with further narration, sans nagging. (i say it again: play is never pointless!)

play can be a science experiment. quinn made some spinning tops from legos, and it was a great avenue to discuss experimental design. he was telling me that the one made from the big lego wheel and the taller stick spun for the longest duration because it was the biggest. i asked him if he thought it was the larger diameter of the wheel or the weight of it (which aspect of “bigger”) that helped, and whether he could design an experiment to determine which factor was most important. he hesitated, then told me “you just gave me an idea” and came back having tested the wheel on an even longer stick, having found out that with the same wheel, the longer stick helped the top spin longer (yet another aspect of size). then he was able to verbalize how one could test two different diameters of the same weight on the same length of stick, or two different weights of the same diameter on the same length of stick, to test the diamater vs weight concept.

“concept” is a word he is using quite frequently. his battle/dungeon/castle/mythology/pokemon story language is as lyrical as ever.

in the realm of d and d, he has me on a mission to defeat a dragon, who is guarding a treasure stolen by some orcs/goblins from the elf high council (my character is an elf and she is apparently a member of said council) and right now we are discussing an alternate plan, instead of killing the dragon, to get him on our side. i freed one of the original guards who wasn’t killed when the treasure was stolen but who was taken prisoner, so he informed me that the dragon has one scale missing over his heart and that’s his weakness and the way to kill him if i wanted to, but i suggested making the dragon a shield/artificial scale and offering it to him in trade for the treasure (agreeing to set him free in the process) but then it turned out one of the orcs has the missing scale (made of mithril) and is using it as a shield so before i face the dragon the new plan is to go kill the orc with the missing scale and bring it to the dragon to return it as a peace offering.

and the experience of actually playing d and d is a lot like an incredibly long run-on sentence, so i’m going to leave that exactly how it is.


there was more work to be done these past months on the theme of advocating for himself. quinn arrived at the conclusion after one frustrating karate session (frustrating because of a missed week of class, and because he had forgotten the techniques he had learned the previous week) that he was disappointed about not being brought to karate at least once during his dad’s weeks. we had a pretty good conversation about how he, quinn, has a lot more power to change that than i do, and how he would be wise to communicate his wishes to his dad.

karate has provided a plethora of opportunities for self-advocating and initiative practice. our sifu believes in letting the kids have space to learn how to initiate their own advancement through curriculum; this implicitly allows them space to flounder, until they realize they are in charge of their own destiny. i very much appreciate this, and have had numerous discussions with quinn about this dynamic; such as discussing how open mat classes allow an ideal time to “bug sifu” for a new technique, given the smaller class size and therefore increased availability on the instructor’s part. children deal with so much powerlessness, and i want to teach quinn how to use what power he does have, teach him that, “it is what you make of it” and the structure of self-paced learning at karate is helping him see how much control he can have over his learning.

both his classroom this year at school, and his dojo, are achieving some of the educational priorities i hold nearest and dearest, such as connection with his teachers and a sense of belonging.

though my favorite memory this month is not my shoulder injury, one bright spot in that particular evening at the dojo was the way quinn rushed to help me with carrying my bag, and holding doors for me.

one morning we parked at school several minutes early so quinn sat on my lap and snuggled while we finished a deathly hallows chapter. when i turned it off and took the keys out of the ignition, quinn tried to take them back, then got this twinkle in his eye and said, “i’ll roll you for your keys!” and i laughed so hard. our sifu uses that particular choice bit of slang (and other good ones… “you talkin’ mess?” for example… when he’s creating a scenario for using a given self defense technique). sifu had joked the previous night to quinn, about his new day-glow safety green karate hoodie, “i’ll roll you for that hoodie” but having q use it on me (and immediately start giggling uncontrollably) was hilarious.

and i will leave you with one final gem from the school spring concert, during which such rites of passage as 50 nifty united states, found a peanut, and the rattlin’ bog were sung. but this one really says it all!


2 comments to ~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ turrets and portcullises

  • wow! there’s so much here! i absolutely love that he fell asleep in your lap on the way back from the field trip. so sweet.
    jenny recently posted..here it comes again

  • mamaC

    “Wow!” is what I thought, too. I missed visiting this when you first posted but am glad to read through it now. It is so full of richness.

    Cool to see Piper very clearly still in action, and it was very touching to hear about Quinn’s thoughtful birthday present for “Panda.” I really liked seeing them together in that baseball photo. Though I don’t have experience with the “cool math games” website I had no trouble picking up on the vibe and understanding why you could find the platform objectionable, and I recognize and admire how you are handling the reality of your strong opinion & feelings within a context of respect for alternate opinions & feelings! Those are the things that can feel unsung and I definitely noticed that principled effort! Your description of those snippets of his classroom process made his classroom seem like a very inspiring place. That is really great. I also thought your description of the karate dojo and your sifu’s philosophy was inspiring (actually thrilling to me.) I like the idea of all the kids (whatever their experience in other parts of life) having that space to discover they are in charge there and can direct their course and their process, through being in contact with an instructor who is non-directive in overall approach. Non-directive but responsive. I think you’re right that having it there, in that place in their lives, can help kids begin to identify the ways in which they CAN be in control, or can direct their course, through the various “systems” in their lives. Even the very structured ones! I was cracking up about boo-pa-loo. I think I need a “usual” morning song for my own sleepy bugs!

    I felt really glad to hear that Quinn sees himself as someone who is “as non-violent as possible.” It was cool to read about him processing his feelings of frustration and unhappiness to identify what was disappointing for him and also identify a possible solution or action he could take. I see that as a huge “item” in your collection and I also recall that this kind of support was a big feature of my time with OJT at that same age. It happened a lot with things at school: listening to her and focusing on providing the container that would hold it all and give her the opportunity to get a look at it all, and reflect on it. Focusing on supporting her in seeing herself and reflecting. I think it’s about learning “What do my feelings tell me?” And also, “What action might I want to take?” (Sometimes “none.” But the processing itself is an important action, and yes sometimes “having” the feelings is what needed to happen, just an emotional process itself.) These days, I sometimes don’t even hear about stuff (for the “processing” part.) I will just hear about a situation as a story she’s telling me: hear her outline the situation and her objections or concerns, clearly tied to their causes, and then hear that she decided to talk to a teacher about it or whatever.

    After reading through the entire post yesterday, I was looking back over the text and photos just now and realized that I could spy the green hoodie (mentioned at the end) in one of the earlier photos! It was a blessing to see your reflection and the meaning you identify in all the things. I love that you actively cultivate reflective processes this way. And I am happy for the book tip of “Eagle Boy”!

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