~two months in the life of a lifelong learner~ percolator

a long and winding hodge podge of learning and living that i have decided to stop editing and move on from… read at your own risk (warning! verbosity ahead!), and probably pour yourself a cup of tea first.

science fair! i had the privilege of being the science fair mentor for quinn’s 5th grade class. his teacher had a very clear plan and it made it very easy to guide the kids through the process of gathering their data. they worked in groups to build worm compost bins, and then ran experiments based on, in most cases, food preferences of the worms. quinn’s group chose to compare the worms’ preference for raw potato to cooked potato, by adding equal amounts of each food at the start of the 4 weeks, and weighing what was left of each type after each week passed.

after i got done doing science with the kids one afternoon, i had a great conversation with quinn’s teacher. i opted quinn out of the state smarter balanced testing this year. it’s a matter of filling out a form, and since the detriments to quinn seemed to be outweighing the benefits, i filled out the form. his teacher had emailed me about another test called oaks science, that he will take as a 5th grader, and letting me know that if we wanted to try to opt out of the OAKS, it required a religious or learning disability reason and apparently involves a great deal of writing on the parents’ part.

this is all aside from star testing which actually provides some insight on specific skills; in quinn’s case the insights are limited based on how far out of range he scores. he still takes a star test at the beginning and end of the year.

i had emailed her back explaining our reasoning for the SB opt out was that Q was showing signs of stress last year and that all the rest of my misgivings about standardized testing aside, that particular test doesn’t even seem like it offers teachers any feedback on how to help kids learn. i have seen the results for the past two years, which aren’t returned until fall (when quinn wlil be a 6th grader with a different set of teachers) and seemed fairly useless to me.

i asked her what her take on the OAKS was, whether it was like SB, whether she felt some other way about SB, acknowledging that i’m not the teacher, and want to know if i am missing some truly helpful aspect of it. i said i’m happy to write something though i could prove neither religious nor learning disability for quinn.

she eased any potential worries about the science test, said she thinks he should take it because it’s far less involved… 40 science questions with definite answers, not open-ended essays. she doesn’t think it will stress him out the same way the other one did, she sees that he gets hung up on writing answers, he percolates in his mind and it takes him a while to start writing. i loved that she has such an accurate observation of him, and also that she phrases it in such positive terms; she says she is fascinated by his differences. if she saw any sign that he was experiencing stress from the science test, she would “find a glitch” and that would be that.

she ended up sharing her own dislike of the sb tests, is glad i’m opting quinn out of them, encouraged us to opt out all the way through high school, and even finds the star only so useful for his level. she feels what he might really benefit from is tag testing, and even moreso, pre-sat testing when he gets to middle school. she told me she thinks i will really need to advocate for him over there, because she feels he really needs more tag programming and isn’t getting it. i’m so glad i shared my reasoning for opting out, because i think it freed her to share her take on things, and it turns out she is a pretty incredible ally in terms of seeing clearly what is needed with this boy’s education.

we planned what he will do during testing week, and while there were several good options for students opting out, we agreed the best was for him to do an independent project. she liked the concept of genius hour that google uses to foster ingenuity, and she felt quinn could handle an open-ended project on a topic of his choice. she wanted it to entail some sort of end product that he could then share with the class (a presentation, animation, essay, artwork, etc.)

she was also supportive about us going to new york for a week, saying he will learn a lot from traveling!

“percolating” is such a perfect word to describe quinn’s thinking process, especially when it comes to getting ready to write something. he does most of his work inside his head, then it comes pouring out in the eleventh hour, spilling onto the page in a form that requires little editing. what wonderful images and memories the word “percolator” brings to mind: from recent fourth of july camping trips, enjoying breakfast around the campfire, to long ago visits with aunt margie and uncle george in their cabin in the adirondacks. again, it’s amazing to find someone who has the capacity to observe such things about my kid so thoroughly in spite of the fact that he is “number 27” out of 30 kids in her room. seen, known, valued for who he is; sense of belonging, connection. see also: educational priorities.

this story has been percolating along, about a page every few weeks or so…

mapping was a big topic covered in recent weeks. quinn’s imaginary land of canith has realistic longitude and latitude lines, a legend, and all the physical features of a map that you could want!

his tag class also included some compass and map work. another week involved animal tracks. one week, they worked outside and made miniature shelters. at the end the instructor let them all destroy their structures, but quinn had built his off to one side by a rock and said he was the only kid who decided to leave his up in case a squirrel needed a place to hide.

i picked quinn up from school one afternoon, and he was his usual one-word answer, surly after school self, which i’ve come to think of as “feed me” and so i didn’t start asking a bunch of questions (i’ve learned to wait until later for the most part). he was coming from a dad day and therefore no lunch leftovers to eat, but i had a tangerine. i did ask if he had remembered to bring his state book home (because when i was in class for science fair on thursday, his teacher had mentioned he still needed to finish it up). he said no. then when i asked if we should go back in for it, he provided self-defeated answers, “no, we can’t, because…” and “it’s raining” and “we’ll get hypothermia.” in the meantime, i had showed him the pack of brightly colored paper i had picked up (including martian green and cosmic orange) for making more of the origami octahedron project he liked doing the previous week at school. i had gotten a smile out of him with the martian conversation (because he read it aloud and then i said oh, like marTEEans, from martia?) but he was still mopey, so i re-parked and started peeling the tangerine, and then handed him a slice, calling it a marTEEan orange power pack, and said it would protect him from hypothermia as we returned to the mother ship… and also from scurvy. and by then he was laughing and walking in the rain into the school to get his stuff. and he said they were cosmic orange power packs, duh.

so, handling moody tweens is easy. just be a goofball. and provide snacks.

in his homework folder, he had a handwritten note from a friend saying to please bring himself and his family to go bowling at 3:30. (no bumpers). no date was specified, so i asked quinn, and he was pretty sure it meant the following day, saturday. luckily, i had background info that this boy’s dad is a fb friend of mine and rich’s due to being in one flew over the cuckoo’s nest with rich, so i did some parental fact checking, and sure enough, it was legit. the response i got was, “i had no idea the Quinn he was talking about was your Quinn!”

our two families got along quite well, and the boys are a lot alike. two smarty pants stick figures.

after bowling, we had dinner with rich’s mom and some friends, which was fun and fancy. quinn did well with the fancy factor (napkin in the lap, multiple forks and spoons and courses). he is fun to be around, which i’m glad i can say about my ten year old. here he is at home the next day eating the leftovers of his herb chicken, still painstakingly scrubbing his sprig of rosemary and slice of lemon over each bite before consuming.

it’s been a time of ups and downs with friendships for quinn. while nothing major has taken place, i get the sense that things are shifting a bit for him and he is finding that he values certain things in friends, some of which he hasn’t quite found yet. one friend he has thought of as a best friend named another boy as his best friend while he and quinn were playing one day. i had a chat with quinn after overhearing that, deciding to risk bringing up a touchy subject rather than let it go untalked about. it did definitely come up on his radar, though he didn’t give it any energy with the friend. he got his feelings about it out with me, and though it didn’t feel great, he also realized it didn’t have to mean anything terrible, either.

we talked more about what he values in a friend. one thing he likes about the bowling friend (he’s going to need a pseudonym soon, i can tell) is that, “he understands what i’m saying.” i probed further to find out that what he means by that is, the vocabulary and language quinn uses are understood and do not need further explanation with this boy, do not need to be simplified or defined. they keep up with each other. they have a compatible sense of humor in that they both like word play, and they can get pretty complicated with their discussion topics without needing to slow down.

there’s a lot going on in social development. some intriguing correspondence from a female karate friend inspired quinn to respond in cursive to her letter. i’m glad to find that: he is eager to fill me on the details and let me read both his and her notes; that he seems to have a sense of the appropriate level of friendship at this age level and kept it all in friend terms; and that he writes with good reciprocity, both sharing some of his ideas but also asking her likes and favorites.

i just wanted to mention/appreciate that i love my dojo. sifu and mrs. todd have been so supportive of working with quinn in the limited time they have with him (to date his dad has remained insistent that he cannot bring him to class during his week) and they’ll even refuse to charge me full price for quinn since he is there only half of the time. meanwhile, they work hard to catch him up on his techniques when he is around, and they see who he is and what his strengths are, and emphasize those while helping him in areas where he is not as strong. they recognize things like perfectionism (they ease up the test pressure and focus on the fun), they recognize his desire to one day teach, and his cognitive abilities to retain all the details about each move of each technique, and they put him to work helping other students. i talked with them about how i feel he will become less tolerant of his dad’s refusal to bring him to activities, as he becomes a teen, and sifu was in agreement that time would come. it’s what i hope for with everyone who enters quinn’s life in any meaningful way, that the focus will be on quinn and what is best for quinn, that quinn will be seen and known and valued for who he is, and that the connection is alive and foremost between him and anyone in a teaching capacity. (once again, see educational priorities.)

they constantly express how happy they are that we’re a part of the dojo, so i know the feeling is mutual!

he has been reading up on egyptian mythology, and requesting books on hieroglyph translation! he also read riordan’s greek heroes tome, now that he has read pretty much everything else the man has written.

cats are sacred in egyptian culture, right? this one expects to be worshipped… the past few months she often helps quinn fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.

one morning the day of his music lesson, i got him up a half hour early and he played a full third of the drum section of his book… he has much better focus in the morning. we have had some discussion about how he may need to work at the bells harder (the snare drum just comes so easily to him) but that it will be just as rewarding or even more so to get better at the bells, since he will have to work harder. i’m trying to do things to keep practice fun for him, and continue to help him when he gets stuck in perfectionism mode. rich helps by furthering his musical education, putting beatles cds on the stereo. i mix up what instruments we play (recorder, guitar, piano, miscellaneous percussion), rename his tunes, play along with him on a drum, piano, or recorder, and inform him of silly lyrics trivia.

quinn and i went to the talent show at his school, because his friend (of the bowling invite) was in a skit and also playing his guitar in the show. we ended up sitting right in front of his friend’s family and that was cool and random. he came to sit with us and they got to chat. after we left i was musing with quinn about the band they’ll form together, and quinn thinks they need more players, “like maybe a flute and a trumpet?”

we try to fit in a few of the “art fridays” classes offered through the visual arts center, and the one called mayan metalsmithing caught quinn’s eye this session. he loved the owl image he saw in one drawing, and ended up borrowing from that idea to make a very intricate pyramid with symbols representing four elements and other details. he certainly had fun using this new and different medium for creating.

we had a fabulous family visit in new york, complete with lots of learning about: wizard chess, drums, winter olympics sports, shelter building practice, plane de-icers, and the origami yoda series his cousins had out from the library.

i got quinn on friday from school, and took him to his “mayan metalsmithing” art class at the visual arts center. we went home, ate pizza for dinner, and got ourselves packed up.

before the trip, we got to spend the afternoon with rich’s daughter. she had on hgtv show called fixerupper, which was impossible for quinn to pull himself away from. still, he manages to learn things, and while we were waiting in the airport he told me that he wants a fixer-upper and to fund his paleontology research by flipping houses. his exact words were that he would “use the money for more expeditions and plaster”. i encouraged him to learn all the building skills he possibly can from his dad, so he can put them to good use. i think it’s an excellent plan, better than trying to compete for grants. the part he loved the best was taking a “blank” room (his word) and deciding what to do with it and putting all the things in it (he will also have a warehouse… to hold the optional items.)

we took a red-eye flight there as usual. as we were landing in newark, quinn and i were able to see the empire state building and the statue of liberty from the plane. flying to syracuse, quinn spent a long time looking out the window at the view of snowy new york countryside – i can picture him gazing out with his with hands folded in his lap.

i will also be able to picture quinn’s cute upturned face when he finally hugged grammy.  their bond is like nothing else in the world.

after some soup and corn muffins for lunch, the boys began dueling with lightsabers. as soon as that got rowdy, i strongly suggested we go sledding before the snow melted all the way, and we had a fun afternoon sledding, tobogganing, and generally playing in the snow.

we had a picnic dinner, as is the christmas tradition of the rews, and since we haven’t all been there for one since quinn was just shy of 2, we observed the christmas picnic tradition together.

by the time i woke up the next morning, uncle t and grampy had already left for work, and quinn had gotten up and was on the loveseat snuggling with grammy, just the two of them, just chatting. lots of cousin play time happened, and quinn began drawing a game on graph paper in his spare moments. quinn and i talked some about being a person who needs to do some recharging in between being with people, and i see how self-aware he is in this department nowadays.

we had so much fun watching the olympics. we mimicked the vocalizations of the curling athletes and feigned understanding of the subtle intricacies of the sport. we cheered on the men’s bobsled teams who incredibly tied for gold, and reminisced about olympics of yore when germany was still divided into east and west. rich and i had recently learned that the berlin wall has now been down as many days as it had been up, and grampy remembered having written an essay about the berlin wall in his younger days.

quinn got up  before me again the next day, but it was because he had fallen out of bed (from a mattress on the floor, so no biggie) and he immediately went downstairs to grammy, who tucked him into her bed for another 15 minutes so he could have a gentle wake up. my favorite thing is that he doesn’t bother to wake me up, because why would he when there is a perfectly good grammy to go to?

the paper airplane shop began in earnest on this day, and lasted through the rest of the week. mario’s design for an airplane called a scooty was a big hit, and many prototypes were made. the living room was a big mess after a while, but i grabbed a brown paper bag and named it the “airplane garage” at one point, said it was time for the boys to park their airplanes in the garage if they were ready to go outside, and they were, so they did. it got called “the garage” the rest of the week.

luigi made himself a parachute and wanted to do an egg drop, and i encouraged him (he was inspired by quinn’s parachute which he had seen in oregon) and then he and i went up to the barn to drop it off the hay loft, and it worked great! he was so thrilled.

in the world of olympics, it was the day lindsey vonn was doing her downhill skiing and we were screaming our heads off just as though we actually care about skiing.

that afternoon the kids played outside in the 60 degree weather for hours on end: swinging on the tire swing, climbing trees, building shelters, riding bikes, trying to jump on the pogo stick… and generally running around in the breezy mild weather.

before dinner, boys were hanging around the table so i put a pile of place mats and napkins, a stack of plates and a pile of utensils on one end of it and asked who would like to help with setting the table. quinn and schroeder (quinn’s newest cousin) handled the whole thing. quinn made a comment that he can’t refuse because he is a certified technician, and the tone of what he said was so cheerful and positive (instead of “i’m obligated” it was more like “i feel compelled to and proud to do it.”)

quinn did so well with bedtimes and routine, possibly motivated by the fact that he then ended up being the first cousin up every morning to monopolize grammy time.

i got up early and went to see my friend the next morning and when i got home, quinn was playing chess with uncle t (who took the day off wed) and i guess they got a few games in before the other boys woke up.

we all cheered on the olympic short track skaters because… well, because!

then rich and quinn and i went to visit uncle b, and got to see his baby goats (bowie and pixie, boy and girl, so cute!) and then go to his practice space so quinn could see his drums and he could show him some stuff. i took video of each of the beats he showed quinn so i can put them on his computer for him to play back and try to replicate… he had this look of awe listening to uncle b on the drums. he was kind of shy once he got behind the drums himself and it took him a minute to play anything, but he did do the basic rhythm he knows, and then he ad libbed a little bit and it was pretty cool. uncle b said, “he’s got that rew music gene” and seemed proud to have a nephew following in his drumming foorsteps. i am so glad they got that time together. he encouraged quinn to listen to certain drummers, and named several bands who have inspired him… quinn was soaking it all in.

that night i happened upon a scene in which quinn, luigi and mario were trying to make an origami cat using a you tube video, and uncle t was trying to help them. i sat in to try to help as well, but it was a difficult one, and we ended up watching the second half and realizing we should bail. then the boys helped quinn make an easy 5-fold origami yoda they had learned, and then i put quinn to bed.

the next morning at 8:00 i started seeing snowflakes… quinn came downstairs a few minutes after 8 and it was snowing in earnest, and the sound of him gasping… priceless. he told me he never saw it snowing before, only had woken up to snow being already on the ground, so he was feeling the magic. i asked if he wanted to go out right away, but he said no, he wanted to wait until there was some on the ground and then go out and play. it just kept falling and falling all day! 8 hours later there were 6 inches on the ground, and many giant snowballs, snow people, the base of an igloo, and ski tracks. quinn’s snow person had a big base, and tapered to a very small head, and he called it the security guard.

skiing was such an intense emotional experience for him. i found all of my gear from when i was his age (miracle… shoes in attic, skis in barn. poles in cellar…) and we realized the boots fit him fine! so we snapped him into the skis, and he was excited! and then he was frustrated! and then he was angry at me! and then he was angry at skis! and then he was on top of the world again! like that, for the whole time. he was so happy to be doing it (i mean, olympics mania was not lost on the boy) and yet it did not come easily, and he fell and it didn’t feel great, and he didn’t think i was right that falling is an essential part of the learning process with skiing. later on, we had yet another conversation about how sometimes we can be perfectionists…. and i think he is gaining insight about that all the time. so all in all, i am very glad i put him on those skis, and put that good challenge in front of him, and though it was not easy, it was enjoyable and a memory he will love forever.

schroeder came over, and quinn and mario went sledding with him and they had tons of fun. the snow kept falling… then at 4:00, it stopped and the sun came out! so we retired to the indoors for tacos! it was a wonderful, snowy birthday eve.


there has been much written on the subject of this day already, a cold and rainy, paper folding, family gathering, peach pie eating, wonderful day of celebrating with his whole family all together on his birthday for the very first time.

in the morning we went to the cider mill and got to see andy and molly. they had been out of town visiting family for spring break, but it was so good to get to see them again. we got apples and donuts and went back to the house for play time until we had to leave for the airport.

quinn used his new birthday present book on star wars origami when he got home to create r2d2 and c3po. he had a frustration at one point and as i was trying to talk him through staying with it and staying calm, he told me, “i’m a perfectionist.” his increasing level-headed awareness of this inner challenge will help him so much in overcoming the associated obstacles!

he has been exploring more game programming using scratch. on one occasion he looked at trying to make a dinosaur bone digging game in scratch, and he played some other peoples’ games about dinosaurs.

he also started making a game called kashyyyk battle. one of the books i gave him for his birthday was about making star wars games in scratch. he read a bunch of it on the plane ride, and it is amazing to me how he started with making the (someone else’s icon design) whale swim across the screen to now googling “how to make gravity in scratch” and implementing all this crazy code and designing these characters himself (drawing individual pixels). yoda has a lightsaber that appears if you press space bar, to kill the clones… it’s a work in progress, but he got gravity working… and he knows exactly what he is going to do, he just needs more time to implement it all.


one afternoon, he thought of an idea for a new “story mode” game, after experiencing “scratch – story mode” and given some prior experience with “minecraft – story mode.” he worked in his graph notebook that bears the label “quinn’s games” to develop 3 characters (they bear striking resemblance to quinn himself, and his cousins mario and luigi) and began percolating some ideas about the story line of the game, in which he knew the heroes would encounter at least one dragon.

on time management… i’ve had him start using a white board to plan his time. one non-school friday he woke up just before 9 and he had until 2:30 when he’d leave for his dad’s, so i had him plan out his day in segments of 30 minutes. he got to choose when to have breakfast, lunch, music practice and homework, and then see how many other half hours were left for free choice (a game of bone wars, time to himself, time with me; i gave restrictions on my own time such as needing the time slot before his lunch free for making lunch) and he followed the plan pretty much to the letter and with only a little bit of grumbling/processing and a growing awareness of the passage of time (we used a timer for each 30 minute segment). i haven’t asked him to plan every evening, but some evenings i do bring it up, so he does less leaving things until the last minute or skipping them entirely (music practice is hard to fit in without some intentional planning, with all the karate and trying to get to bed on time and lengthy dinner and bath processes). this seemed like an area that could do with more scaffolding and coaching, and it seems like the right time to get some practice in before middle school.

one small victory in this area was that he got caught up on a whole week of reading summaries in one night. typically, he struggles against writing even one summary, and he is required to write four of them per week. he didn’t write any while we were in new york, believing he did not need to, but found out when he got back that he actually did need to. he set a goal for himself to have it done by wednesday, and worst case scenario friday, so he wouldn’t have to miss any recess to finish it at school. (that would take place after the one week grace period, so the following monday). he got home from karate one night and set to work and got 6 summaries written; not only did he get the back work done, but got himself up to date on his current homework for that week. all without a single mention from me, he just did it.

also in the department of planning ahead, he knows that he wants to do a comparison of the various mythologies he has learned about- greek, roman, egyptian, norse – when he spends his week opted out of testing.

for his karate birthday, i brought mini cupcakes and sifu gave him an amazing gift of throwing knives that quinn has been ogling in sifu’s weapons case for a while now. it’s so neat how he pays attention to what the kids care about. i brought cookies to school for his birthday on the monday he went back, since he had his actual birthday while he was in new york.

hat day ~ guitar and other instruments keep him interested in music even if his principal instrument is causing frustration ~cracking crab

“look out, snack shelf, because here comes winter storm quinn!” we had to laugh that winter storm quinn came and hit new york the week after we visited.

we celebrated st. patty’s with our local family. corned beef, green jello, plasma cars, and all the usual fixings!

quinn’s class took a 3 day field trip to outdoor school at the local omsi site known as camp grey. i chaperoned for two out of three days, so i got to photo document as well.

on day 1, the topics were marine mammals and birds. after stretching out a rope and visualizing the actual lengths of various marine mammals, from sea otter to blue whale, the kids got to cycle through stations, checking out bones, retrieving “food” out of water using different tools to represent baleen (strainer) and teeth (chopsticks), donning a blubber glove to see how much warmer it makes the water feel, dropping slinkies from their ears to the ground to test out echolocation, and designing their own marine mammal based on the adaptations they’d learned about. after lunch, they hiked to the jetty and did some great bird watching, spying an osprey nest, many cormorants, and a few other species, in addition to some harbor seals.

on day 2, our group went on a nice long hike to the beach! to warm up our brains before we left, we did an exercise using a crumpled up piece of paper to represent a watershed. the kids drew waterways where they seemed likely to exist based on the paper’s “topography”, and then the leader used a squirt bottle to demonstrate how the water would flow around the watershed. the hike involved some plant identification, a fun game of tag to represent the food web, and a fair amount of free time to explore and play.

and one certified cursive signature writing technician!

pi day!

quinn had his half-purple belt test! he tested alongside two of his peers who were receiving their green belts, so it was a pretty intense and thorough test, in which each kid was truly taken to their edge and made it back safely. each kid also had a chance to showcase the areas in which he shines, and while the other boys were both very strong in sparring, quinn’s talent for memorizing forms and for understanding theory were also displayed.


the science fair event was held at quinn’s school. i appreciated quinn’s teacher’s approach once again in that her class did a group effort sandwich board and a nice bulletin board, and skipped the individual displays (aside from worm bins! the actual experiment!)

it was a nice opportunity to talk with his teacher about him, whereas my usual capacity as a classroom mentor or field trip chaperone doesn’t often allow for that. she is looking ahead to middle school and said that she will recommend him for the 7-8 accelerated math class beginning in the fall. even better, she knew more about the teacher than i do, and said “i want him to have her right away.” this bodes very well, coming from this wonderful teacher with whom i feel very lucky he has gotten to spend fifth grade.

i also got to hear about how she feels quinn “thinks so outside of the box” and uses language in “ways i’ve never heard from other students.” she told me, “sometimes i put quinn’s assignment  on the bottom of the pile to save it for last, it’s like dessert!

i looked over at quinn, who was listening in, and said, “it’s story ice cream in a bowl.” and he smiled.

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