Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bugs - caterpillar

We purchased a bushel of corn from a shack near a farm. As advertised, the organically-grown pesticide-free corn really had bugs in them. One of these bugs was a really plump green caterpillar, and we decided to save it.

It was a great opportunity for the boys to learn about these critters, and Wikipedia is an excellent place to start. We learned that caterpillars have about 4,000 muscles (humans have 629) with 248 muscles in the head segment alone!

We prepared a jar with some extra food, including corn silk and husks. Now, we're watching and waiting...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Handy and Hands On

My boys have used an old toy train table to stage countless battles between their toys. Unfortunately, the table is made out of really cheap particle board, so it has broken several times. 

The first breakage simply required larger wood screws. The second breakage required a combination of larger wood screws and hot glue. After the third breakage, I was planning to toss it since the work required to fix it was going to take a bit of effort. But, when the boys pleaded with me to fix it, I decided to turn this into a dadly project. 

First, I explained why the table was not such a great design, and how we were going to improve it. (Tip: be prepared to answer why people would make such bad products.)

Next, we made a list of what we need to do and materials we needed to buy at the hardware store. I made the boys help with the list, but the little ones will probably have difficult time getting thing in order. For complicated projects, you might want to put the tasks that need to be done on flash cards so that you can switch the order. My boys used rulers to measure the length of screws necessary to fix the table correctly, and I was able to introduce a memorable maxim, "Measure twice, cut once."

At the hardware store, I made a point to show the different types of screws (machine screws, wood screws, sheet metal screws, flathead screws, countersunk screws, hex cap screws, allen head screws, etc.) and explain the different applications they were used. It's very convenient that you can easily point to real examples at the hardware store. I also tried to explain how the screws are categorized. (Tip: don't ask them to count the number of threads on a 8-32 x 1" screw… )

When we returned, I let them use my power drill WITH very close supervision, AND I made sure that they used safety goggles.  They LOVED this part. I was very clear that they were not allowed to use any power tools without my close supervision. 

The rest of the fix was quite simple, they had to use the screwdriver and wrench to tighten the new and improved fasteners. 

The cleanup was also a very important part of finishing a project, and they fully participated. They are enjoying the train table once again, and they have been telling each other how great it was to be able to fix it. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Think Out Loud

I've been absolutely swamped over the past couple of weeks with moving the family to a new house and with a sudden influx of work. I did spend time with the boys, but I haven't been able to blog about it until now. 

As I was working on stuff around the old/new house fixing things, I started talking out loud my thoughts whenever the boys came by checking out the stuff I was doing. I also got them involved in a few interesting little projects like building a new 3x3 shelf unit out of old wire mesh squares and tie wraps. 

The "thinking out loud" felt like a great dadly technique, even if the kids didn't necessarily appreciate it as much. Also, it was NOT as easy as I thought it should be. However, after a couple of weekends worth of trying, it got easier. 

Some honey-do projects are quite simple: "If I put the unused closet door behind the shelf in the garage, it will take up the least amount of space. And, the shelf will protect to door from getting damaged." 

Other projects are more complicated: "The lock that just broke is an older design that is no longer made, but the design matches all of the other hardware on the door. I might be able to buy a new lock made by the same manufacturer and take the inside parts to fix the broken one… (later) The inside parts of the new lock are completely different. See, the screw holes are different size and in different locations… I could probably drill and tap (make screws), but the linkages are also different. It is probably better to temporarily use the new hardware as-is and contact the manufacturer to see if I can buy just the broken parts." 

Kids showed varying degrees of interest in my thinking out loud about working on real problems. But, when I started thinking out loud while playing strategy board games, they found this really interesting. 

"If I move the knight over here, the white bishop will probably attack my rook that the knight no longer protects. Then, the queen can move to this other spot that the white bishop no longer protects for the checkmate." 

The cool thing is that by the end of each game, I could notice an improvement in their level of skill. Maybe thinking can be contagious! 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Light Saber - with Pool Noodle Blades

We have 6 mass manufactured lightsabers that extend, retract, light up, and buzz. But, these all suck when it comes to having an epic battle... because they hurt, especially the little one. My boys are 5 & 8 yrs. old. The kids really want the satisfaction of swinging their lightsabers hard and hitting their targets with a solid thud. I really want the boys to not get hurt or even cry from perceived pain. 

So, here is my solution: The Lightsaber with a Pool Noodle Blade! 

This activity might not be safe for everyone, so use your own judgment and use at your own risk. If you're not sure, DON'T DO IT. 

This project will take about 30 minutes and $5 per set of 2 lightsabers. We spent hours afterwards battling! 

     Pool noodle from Walmart: ~$2
     1/2" PVC pipes (3 ft. long): ~$3
     misc. tapes
     Measuring tape
     Serrated bread knife
* Each Jedi has different color lightsaber.  
* Ask your boys which Star Wars Jedi he wants to be. 
* Let them tell you about their favorite Jedi. 
* If you don't know how to cut the PVC pipes, ask the nice guys at Home Depot or Lowe's to cut them for you. 

Step 1: (boys do this part.)
Measure the length of pool noodles. 
Divide the length number by 2. 
Mark the length. 
Cut the noodles in half with serrated bread knife
* Remind the boys why math is important.  

Step 2: (boys do this part)
Use the file to round off the edges of the PVC Pipes. 
This is necessary to get the pipes to slide it without cutting the hole in the pool noodle. 

Step 3a: (boys do this part)
Wet the hole of the noodle with water. 
Wet the PVC pipe. 

Step 3b: (dads do this part)
Push the PVC pipe through the noodle. 
Make sure that PVC pipe stops at about 3 inches before the top end. (This will make sure that the kids will only get hit with the foam, not with the PVC, when thrusting.)

Step 4: (dads do this part)
Cover the handle of the Lightsaber with duct tape. 

Step 5: 
(boys do this part)
Make your Lightsaber unique with different type of tape. We used black electrical tape, silver tape, sports wrap, and more duct tape. 

Now you're ready battle! 

Suggested Safety Rules:
1. NO attacks to the head or neck. 
2. NO throwing Lightsaber. 
(getting hit with the handle could hurt)
3. Everybody stops when somebody yells "STOP". 

Monday, May 30, 2011

How to deal with Teasing & Overreacting

This Memorial Day weekend ended up being more about being husbandly than dadly… getting a replacement minivan for my wife and looking at options for moving our home.

So, the boys had much more time to free play without dadly activities than prior weekends. Sure enough, the little one would come running to me crying because his brother hit him. This happened couple of times per day. I personally think it's totally within the norm for a couple of boys, but in the spirit of mastering the dadly arts, I spent some time thinking about this.

Every case of hitting followed this sequence:
   (2) ANGER
   (3) Loss of SELF CONTROL
   (4) SMACK
This morning when it happened (almost on cue), I gave the older boy a timeout and followed up with a discussion on my observation of the sequence of events. I asked, "Why did you hit your little brother?" "Why did you lose self control?" and "Why did you get angry?"

I told him that people "teasing" and "overreacting" are realities of life that cannot be avoided. I reminded him of another lesson: "life is not fair" reality that he has to accept. We both agreed that the key to a better situation is to not get angry as a response to "unfair" realities he has to accept.

I replayed the latest event with other options he could have followed when dealing with people who are teasing or overreacting:
  1. Tease back. Now, this could be fun if everybody has a good attitude (I still remember some fun teasing sessions from 20+ years ago in college), but this also has undesirable consequences if the other person gets angry or overreacts. Probably not worth the risk, but I do think that being able to stand your ground is a necessary skill (perhaps future dadly blog entry…). 
  2. Don't react. If teaser gets no reaction, the person might get bored and go away, but the teaser might also get more aggressive. This will be too difficult for him. At lease he realizes this about himself at age 8. 
  3. Communicate. Let the teaser know that what they are doing is not fun for you, not necessary, and will lead to bad consequences. Let them know it's not worth it. Seems like a good solution!
  4. Get away. If the communication doesn't work, it's better to get away from the teaser before getting angry and losing control.