Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Spiffyman Show, Episode 1 (Behind the Scenes)

Today, we finally made the armature (skeleton) for a claymation puppet.  I knew Liam would want to make a puppet of his character, Spiffyman.

First we had to break out the supplies.  A couple of weeks ago, we went to Michaels, and I bought oil-based clay, 20 gauge wire and a wire cutter kit with other tools. We got a cool Minion-themed cardboard treasure box to keep it all in.  It is his "animation box."

It was my first time building an armature, and I made it a little too long with wire a bit too soft.  Later we made him a back-brace!  Then it was time to add the clay.  I showed Liam how to build it up a little at a time.

Here's the finished puppet, with a 12 guage backbrace.  We need shorter puppets or stronger wire next time!

After he built the star of the show, we needed a background to shoot against.  Liam chose what he calls, "Spiffyman yellow."
Lights, Camera - ACTION

I left the room and this is what he created.  He says that the characters are all speaking English, but in reverse.  Here is Liam's first stop motion with an armatured puppet (and friends):

The assignment from his camp was to animate a face.  We'll save the puppet and work on adding additional movement for episode 2.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Speaking of Language

Despite having difficulty in producing flowing, expressive language in English, Liam's fascination with the alphabet and number systems has led him to discover dozens of languages.  His ear is exceptional - native speakers hearing him rattle off the alphabet or count in Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Dutch and more, have remarked on how good his accent is.

He's taught himself a few words in Japanese and Spanish, but that's as far as it's gone.  We briefly took an after-school Spanish class, but it had become very popular and the class size didn't work out for him.

So I was intrigued when I saw a posting on our local "Nextdoor" site.  A young woman from China had just moved to the neighborhood to pursue an acting career and was offering her services as a personal assistant, translator and Chinese tudor.  I am an accent reduction coach.  Why not trade?  It turns out she had a double major in Psychology and Theater and had worked with kids on the spectrum before.  We set a date.

I can honestly say that this woman is wonderful.  She has great energy and Liam was really having fun.  She was surprised by how quickly he memorized (he only needs to hear or see something once).  She got through twice the normal lesson with him.  It was great to bring something and someONE new into the mix.

It looks like the beginning of something wonderful.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When I Wasn't Looking

Liam teaches himself new things daily.  Part of the goal of home schooling is to help him take his mad skills and learn to apply them to challenges set by other people.  The stop motion camp gives him specific challenges to meet, and that takes him out of his usual comfort zone.  But he still manages to use the skills on his own.  I was looking for an older stop-motion video to add to his page and found one he'd made totally on his own.  Yes, it's another countdown video, but the animation is really, really GOOD!

The graphite drawing class went well this week, so we'll continue to have an "away class" at Pastimes for a Lifetime studio.  And I chanced upon a Chinese tudor online who might make a nice addition to Liam's studies.  Sometimes other languages help us tune in more closely to our own.  And Chinese is a really cool language with an amazing writing system.

Liam built a short PowerPoint presentation each day, on the science topic we studied.  We start with a BrainPop movie (these are all from the "Diversity of Life" unit).  After the movie, we reviewed some of the fun questions and went online to find out more about a detail that interested him.

Here are the slides from this week's lessons (the font choices did not translate into the still slides - they're actually much cooler looking than this):
I like how he played with the word "amphibians"

Even though the language is a little advanced, it gives us a chance to look up words and do more research on concepts he doesn't get.  By reviewing the presentations every day, he has more chances to think about it.

We Google images to go with each presentation. Part of the fun is seeing which image he'll use to illustrate the slides

For reptiles, we focused on a reptile he'd actually met.  Mr. Scales was an albino ball python that came to the annual  Spring Faire at Liam's old school.  Kids could pet the snakes and they were up for adoption.  Liam really likes snakes.  I like them too, but I don't think I have the stomach to feed them cute, furry mice.  There was a lot of information on pet websites about ball pythons.

We made more presentations, but my favorite is the one on Mammals.  Mammals are differentiated by how they give birth - placenta, birth/developed in pouch or eggs.  Since Liam found my pregnancy and sonogram pictures so fascinating, this was a really fun presentation to put together.  I didn't have any songram pics of him to add, but we definitely spent some time talking about them.  And now - Mammals:

The "Birds" presentation was fun, just to see the juxtaposition of the world's smallest and largest birds:

Once again, it was fun to tie in the field trip to the text.  My apologies for the completely random way the formatting gets scrambled when turning the PPT into pics.  I'm sure Liam will solve this problem on his own very soon - when I'm not looking.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What Do You Know?

The constant challenge for Liam is to attach meaning - to anything.  It's very easy for him to memorize facts, but meaning is illusive.  I decided to take Liam's obsession with fonts and graphics and combine it with the search for meaning with his science studies.

We are using the BrainPop science films as a jumping off point for our science lessons.  Last week, we covered classification and used a field trip to a pond to search for types of animals.

Seeing that Liam's favorite  animal on the hike was a beetle, we started this week's lesson with insects.
To attach some meaning and interest to the lessons, I gave him the choice of creating a Word Document/Book or a Power Point Presentation with the title "I is for Insect."  He chose Power Point.  Each day, we added a page with some basic information about the insects we studied and then something that stood out to him about each section.  He was allowed to copy and paste text, then we'd review it.  For each slide, he had to do a Google Image search and choose an illustration.   In the case of bees, we also found a cool video produced by a beekeeper.

Here are the final slides for the Insect unit: 

Liam really hates flies and he has his own flyswatter.

Each day, we'd replay the entire slideshow and review what he'd added.  I really like the way this turned out.  I want to use this technique wherever possible.

Yesterday, I began his history text, The Story of the World,  with the first exercise in the accompanying workbook on personal history.  I pulled his baby book, my pregnancy book and all of the pictures I had of him in iPhoto.  He thought the pregnant pictures of me were hilarious. I hope that'll come in handy next week, when we talk about mammals and live birth!

Today we started a new, stop motion/claymation camp on  He animated Bob the Minion counting backwards from 10 -1 in Minion speak.  He opened the "Minion Translator" to be sure he had the right translation and used his stuffed and plastic Minions for character reference.

It's been a good first two weeks (Even though I almost missed a recording session one day, when I got caught up in re-writing the science syllabus).  Somehow, we've managed to find our rhythm again.

Whaddaya know?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Getting Out of the House

Liam and his best buddy share a science field trip.
One of the advantages of starting school early turned out to be the availability of friends to join in the learning adventure.  We started school on Monday with lessons about classifying animals and plants.  I thought it would be fun to go on a nature hike by a pond to see how many different types of animals we could find.  We brought along a nature-loving buddy for the lesson.

Before the trip, we made a table to track mammals, amphibians, insects, birds and fish.
This was Liam's favorite animal.  We were able to Google more information on Stink Beetles the next day.

Seeing some obviously non-native animals gave us a chance to talk about camoflage, and why wild animals fit in better than the orange koi or domestic ducks and geese.  We didn't see any mammals, but saw evidence of one, with these holes.  I can't be sure, but they may have been skunk dens - so maybe it's best we didn't meet their makers.

We stopped off for ice cream and to pick up some dinner.  While we waited for the takeout order, the boys filled in their notebooks with our findings.  Liam's friend learned that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  I made a note on his book to look up velocoraptors and emus.

The next day, based on Liam's interest in stink beetles, I was able to google some fun videos about the life cycle of a stink beetle and their specific classification.  It also gave me the idea to move up the unit on insects.  

Liam seemed happy to jump back into grade 4 on ST Math.  For those curious about what it really looks like, here's a link:

I'm proud of our having been a part of the beta group of homeschoolers using this program.  It is now avialable for more homeschool parents.

It was fun for Liam and for me to include a friend in hands-on lessons this week.  I'm hoping to do more of it, after school and on breaks.  After all, learning can and does happen at any time of day and the joy of discovery is in the sharing.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School

It's been eight and a half months since our family started on the homeschool journey.  On August 3rd, we'll begin 4th grade and it will the first year I'll be teaching all by myself.

Saying "all by myself" isn't exactly fair.  I have a wealth of resources available and have been spending the past few weeks reading other homeschool blogs for tips and inspiration.

The most important thing to do, going forward, is to define our goals.

Overall goal:  Develop strengths that could lead to future independence - connecting his skills to the world in a sustainable way.

Mid-range goal: Prepare Liam to enter into other programs (Like Exceptional Minds) which could hone his career skills.

Short-term goal:  Expose Liam to new ideas and concepts, engaging his mind and pushing his comfort zone.

Last year, we found some programs that Liam loved that I'll use to shape the curriculum this year.  ST Math is back, as well as BrainPop ESL and BrainPop science programs.

I've been turning over ideas for how to teach history in a way that might resonate.  Liam is just beginning to get a grasp on time, especially past and future.  Once again, missing the "meaning" of events makes them harder to loacate in space and time - and that's for events he participated in.  Things that happened to other people have been well outside of his scope.

Liam does connect with interesting facts though - if presented in the right way.  Several homeschool sites recommended "The Story of the World" by Susan Wise Bauer.  It's geared more for Classical Homeschoolers, but the storytelling style of the text and the accompanying activity book looks promising.  If it works, I can reinforce it with online material and museum trips.  This volume is for grades 1-4.  I also like that it is a sequential history from the earliest records of humanity.  Common Core "social studies" (or at least the curriculum at his old school)  start with modern events and skip backward and forward in time - teaching about the gold rush and then the westward expansion.  If Liam has a prayer of getting the gist of this, keeping things in chronological order seems best.

On Thursday, we visited a new art teacher, to see about getting Liam some more solid technique.  I think he's ready.  I met the instructor on Mother's Day at the annual Studio City Arts Fair.  She had a tent with student artwork displayed that showed a range of styles, media and ability.  She teaches art and music from her studio in Van Nuys (  After the first, small group class, we both determined it would be better to do private sessions.  We'll also keep playing with  The animation and graphics challenges are great and he loves to see his work posted online.

As for BrainPop science - I decided to focus on life sciences this year, since it's the most broadly observable and tactile.  The Aquarium of the Pacific offers homeschool days, so I structured the marine biology lessons to lead up to a field trip.
The human biology classes can lead up to a field trip at the Science Center, with a whole hands-on exhibit dedicated to body systems.
We also happen to have some fun Magic Schoolbus and other Scholastic books on those subjects.

Reading comprehension will be tied into the BrainPop ESL lessons.
We'll keep reading the illustrated books Liam loves, since he can immediately connect the action to the pictures, but we'll slowly work into chapter books with fewer illustrations, taking them a few pages at a time.  Fortunately, some of his favorite authors have written both picture books and chapter books.

And I want to introduce Liam to his own blog, to start creating his own narrative sequence for the day and reconnect to meaning whenever possible.  It'll really help ME figure out what's landing and what isn't.

To keep me on track, I've made a daily schedule of ESL and Science along with time for ST Math through mid November.  I figure that'll give me time to assess wheter we're on the right track and make adjustments.  4th Grade used to be my favorite grade to teach. Time to take a big breath and dive in!