Friday, June 26, 2015

Homeschool Summer Camp

I was digging around for a camp that might interest Liam, while still working with our extended homeschool model.  I found the perfect thing in (  The site itself is a series of self-directed skills with different challenges.  Kids can pick a skill, complete the challenge and then upload a picture or a video of what they've done. Other kids can watch and comment and they can even earn virtual badges (or shell out for real ones), like in Scouts.

To support the fantstic free site, they started offering 4 week, online camps.  You pick a camp and each day a video appears with a demonstration or a challenge from the councelor.  Kids complete challenges or post questions and the councelor will answer/comment.  They can also see and comment on each other's work.  Camps run for 4 weeks. The first camp is $10 and then it's only $40/month after that.  I signed Liam up for Stop-Motion camp and he's been having a blast!  Here are some of his films:

This one was done with a friend!

In addition to Camp videos, Liam has been really into the Sesame Street parodies of movies and TV shows.  He's done a few of his own, based on his love of the Spiffy Pictures (Jack's Big Music Show) and Noggin logos:

The Stop Motion Camp is finishing this week.  I think we'll do the Music Camp next!

Thursday, June 4, 2015


In 1988, I started studying Improvisation at Second City in Chicago.  I was terrified.  Text was my friend.  I loved delving into the richness of the words, playing with sounds and finding hidden meanings.  Acting without a script - my MAP - was daunting.  So daunting that I actually got kicked out after my first semester in Second City's training program.  What I learned, that finally got me back into Second City and has helped me ever since, was to let go and trust my instincts.

On stage, trusting my instincts and playing to my strengths (characters in particular), allowed for magical connections and amazing scenes to develop.  When it works, the feeling is like being hardwired to everyone else on stage, almost as if we are all thinking as one being.  If it sounds a little like a religious experience, well, it is.  And audiences are swept up in the joy of the discoveries being made on stage - they get wired in too.

Later, I learned how to transfer that mindset to teaching.  There is a strong improvisational component to a great class.  The teacher has to listen to what each student needs and bring something to the group that addresses the individual and group needs in a way that elevates everyone.  Again, when it works, it is an exhillarating feeling.

"When it works" is the key phrase.  Every improviser and every teacher knows the heart crunching feeling of it "not working."  The trick is to evaluate, and move on.  As one of my favorite Second City teachers said, "you may walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, just don't build a house and live there."

Today, I had one of those turn-around moments - one that started out sucking and then revealed itself to be brilliant.  It was time to read a story.  Liam likes the "Frog and Toad" stories, so we chose a new one, "Cookies."  Unfortunately Jake, our cat, had followed me into Liam's room.  Liam is obsessed with Jake and can't keep his hands off him - well past the point Jake enjoying the attention.  I've been working on Liam giving the cat some space, but the efforts are always short-lived.

As we started the story, the cat wandered over and Liam kept stopping to pet and coddle him.  The most he could manage was a line or two before dropping the book to get to the cat.  My annoyance grew as he continued to ingore my requests to give Jake a break and think about the book.  Finally I promised that Liam could pet the cat as much as he wanted, as long as we finished the story first.

In the next few lines, I realized that the story was about willpower.  I had been so busy trying to control Liam's behavior, I hadn't been listening to what the story was about (first rule of improv - LISTEN!)

Frog and Toad could not stop themselves from eating Toad's delicious cookies and had to develop a strategy to help them resist.  It was too perfect.  We made it through the story and I asked Liam what "willpower" meant.  He couldn't remember, so we went back into the story and found it.  The great thing about "Frog and Toad" is how explicit they are: "Willpower means trying hard not to do something you really want to do."

You just used willpower not to pet Jake!"  I was able to teach Liam a new word, connect him to the text and help him understand an important concept.

Here's to improvisation and the joy of discovery.

Oh - speaking of discoveries - we found this great site for our Summer excursions.  A site dedicated to letting kids explore their interests and forming a community of like-minded learners:
Liam has been doing the animation challenges:

Now that 3rd grade is over, I have to look at what we've done, assess what's worked and what hasn't and trust my instincts to move on to 4th grade.  As my favorite director always says, "be focused, joyful and relaxed."