Making movies and media literacy

I love movies. Whether I’m in a dark movie theatre, crammed in my car at the drive in, or sitting on my couch in my pjs, I love them. I think they teach empathy and love and freaking life skills, guys. Like how many of us know not to run up the stairs if a killer knocks on your door thanks to horror films? Main floor and out the door ya’ll.

But screen time and all that crap. I really do believe kids need to be up and moving and playing and pretending and outside as much as possible. But I also do believe everything in moderation. And I really try not to vilify stuff because that only makes it cooler. Plus, I really love stories in all capacities, and movies are such a great way to tell stories.

So a few weeks ago when K asked if Dogman was a movie, I told him it wasn’t but that he could make it one. We have played around in iMovie before, but I don’t know if it would have occurred to him that he can create his own movie. I think it’s important for kids to see the people behind the scenes: the authors, the scientists, the musicians, the actors… just today we were talking about how radios work and how there’s a DJ in a room playing the music we were listening to. He’s been writing stories for over a year now, we make art, we build legos, so making movies just seems like a great addition to our creative endeavours.

The first thing we had to talk about was logistics. Dogman has some pretty far fetched cartoon humour. So I suggested we try to do some animation as he enjoys the drawing tutorials in the back of the book. He decided that was way too much work. Thank goodness because there would have been so many tantrums I don’t think I would have survived. The other two options were claymation – but that required making clay or play dough and I really, really didn’t feel up to that; and good ol’ live action. He wanted to bust out my sewing machine for costumes but I mean, I’m a good mom, not a crazy one, and told him we could make do with much less work. Of course, doing live action meant we had to talk about our limitations of what we could actually pull off.

So we made him a costume and created our set. And then he learned patience like only a film set can teach. He is not one to do things more than once, so I think it was good for him to learn that mistakes happen, and practice never killed anyone. Even if you thought it was perfect, there’s always the possibility that the next take will be better.

We then sat and played with editing. We added voice overs, music, and sound effects. We added credits because you always have to give credit where credit is due. And he learned that all of this takes a long freaking time, even if your movie is only a minute and a half long. Luckily, iMovie is pretty straight forward. He was able to help a lot, and we were able to sit on the couch with the iPad for the afternoon while we edited.

I think in this day and age especially, media literacy is so important. Movies, books, music, art, the internet… everything is a construct that someone created. It’s been manipulated. It’s one person’s take on something. It’s our job to understand that not everything we read or see or hear is true or representative of reality. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for fairy tales and make believe, but I think it’s good for kids to be able to sort fact from fiction in some ways. Unless they’re questioning the authenticity of characters in Disney World in which case STFU that is Mickey Mouse.

I think this is the type of learning that is really starting to catch on. It’s interdisciplinary and fun. He read a book, enjoyed it, and wanted to create something from it. We had to do some problem solving to figure out how we could get our version of the story, or a piece of the story, out with what we had on hand. And now he has a better understanding of what he sees on the TV and internet. That my friends, is priceless.

I am so in love with homeschooling because we have the freedom to do these sorts of projects. There are so many ways to learn, and so many things to learn, and we’re lucky because we can pick and choose which ways and things work best for us. Some days that’s sitting down with a math book. Some days it’s a nature walk or a visit to a museum. Other days it’s just fooling around. And then sometimes we take on projects like this.

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Homeschooling outdoors

small child looks out window of ruins of an old mill

One of my favourite things about homeschooling is how much more time my son and I have to spend together doing things we love. He only went a full day for a week, and half days for little more than two months, but even that impacted our lifestyle. Bedtime had to be on the dot because he needed to be rested in the morning. (Not an easy feat as he rarely sleeps through the night, and is up and reading a stack of books before I’m even awake in the mornings.) He needed to unwind after school, aka yell at me for two hours. Then it was time for me to make dinner and time for lessons. Not to mention his rage learning. And then it was bedtime again. There just wasn’t time for much else.

I think my best friend was the most excited when she found out that homeschooling is very different from what it suggests. Our nature walks are learning opportunities. Homeschool isn’t just in the home, it’s anywhere you are. It’s pretty much just parenting with essay questions. So today we bundled up the kids and braved the mud. With everything going on right now, we needed some nature therapy.

I hadn’t been to Balls Falls in a good 5 years at least, but if I’m being honest I think it’s been closer to a decade. There’s a huge welcome centre! And you have to pay to get in. I was skeptical, I mean, the heritage buildings weren’t even open. But it was totally worth it.

My son hates walking with a passion. He generally hates the act of going outdoors, but is usually okay for small periods of time once we’re actually out there. I’m slowly learning that I can make anything fun for him as long as I make it intellectually stimulating. He likes to find sticks when we walk and pretend they’re a compass pointing us in the right direction, and I’ve made at least a hundred mental notes to pick him up an inexpensive one, but mom brain. So last night I was plotting today and I googled, not very hopeful I must say, “how to make a compass.”

What do you know? I asked and Google answered. I found a great article on Scientific American and before we left the house Kaleb had his very own compass.

It did not work amazingly. We’ll need to try again with a stronger magnet to magnetize the needle, and I’d like to try Steve Spangler Science‘s idea of wax paper versus the cork. The Scientific American article was a bit more in depth for K’s liking though as he likes big words and technical science.

It’s difficult to see as he was not going to be slowed down, but we enclosed our compass in a mason jar filled with water and turned it upside down. I think I get bonus points for this thought however when we got home I realized the metal kid might have interfered more than a tad… I tried okay!

No worries. I had more tricks up my sleeve. My grandpa gave K some binoculars when we were visiting and I thought they would be an excellent addition to our hike. We found a huge bird’s nest that I’m not entirely certain Kaleb actually saw, but again, we’re trying here. I quite enjoyed their craftsmanship however.

One highlight was climbing down and looking out the old Woollen Mill ruins. Learning about textiles and clothing? Check. Learning about hydro? Check. Learning about brick and mortar construction? Check. And we even hypothesized about the white mineral residue on the walls and lamented that we didn’t have anything to attempt to capture tardigrades with. Oh, and sliding down a mud hill on your bum? Check!

My friend and I started our walk with expectations of lasting 20 minutes before someone getting cold or someone’s legs hurting. To our amazement though, the trees sheltered us from the breeze making the walk quite pleasant and K was actually excited to keep exploring! We made it through the entire trail, from the upper falls down to the lower ones.

We talked about so many topics I don’t even know if I can list them all. Early settler life, erosion, layering of rock and different minerals, different bridge constructions, water levels, cloud types… all with the degree of talking completely out of our asses. K knows to take whatever I tell him with a grain of salt though, and we googled a few choice subjects when we got home.

You would think after all that walking and learning he would be right tuckered out. But you’d be wrong because we came home and filled our afternoon with Periodic Table cards. Oh, and then we played element Go Fish and he begged to do Beast Academy while we ate dinner. I have to admit, I am absolutely loving this homeschooling stuff.

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Learning on the road

I am always surprised when I hear about how controversial it is to pull kids out of school for a family vacation. I understand the importance of good school attendance, and maybe my view of school is a little different from someone who had to work hard to succeed (a challenge I wish I had been given!), but I feel like family vacations are just so necessary on so many levels.

Life today is so fast paced and full of stress. It isn’t unusual for parents to work more than 8 hours, and then come home and have emails and phone calls to catch up on. Kids even have their own busy little lives, with lessons and practices and all sorts of extracurriculars that have become almost a requirement of childhood. So for a family to be able to get away and enjoy some quality time together is, in my opinion, invaluable.

And here’s the thing, while kids may not be sitting in a desk and learning the required curriculum, they are definitely still learning. There are so many new experiences that ask young brains to adapt, and quickly. They meet new people, gain new social skills, and learn how to adapt to a new environment. It makes them malleable. Kids’ brains need novelty and fun, and what’s a better to way to get those things than a vacation?

And the thing is, we do so much learning when we’re not at home. But it’s natural learning, which I think sticks in children’s brains much better than rote learning or learning something abstractly. Time and money always come up while travelling, and it’s easy to involve kids with keeping to a schedule and budget. When you visit a new locale, discussions about geography and climate and even the animals come up. For instance, we’re seeing lots of lizards that we just don’t find back home. And, we had a visit from some bird friends which fascinated K.

He sat and watched them until they were out of sight, and noticed that they seemed to be eating. “They’re probably going to look for a little lizard,” he concluded as they walked away. Just having that momentary relationship with a creature he wouldn’t normally see is so great. He very rarely watches the birds at home, but because these birds were different from the cardinals and doves and blue jays he’s used to seeing, they held his attention and he experienced a connection with the natural world he wouldn’t have had ordinarily.

My son has been in swimming lessons since he was 2, and we do make an effort to go to the pool often, but there is a big difference between a half hour trip to a pool and a day spent going in and out of it. He has always been confident in water, but there’s something about being able to get a full day in the pool in that really pushes swimming skills along! He was diving in the 4 ft water for his dive sticks! I am a huge believer in kids needing to know how to swim and how to be safe around water, and there is no better way than just being around it.

And then, if you have a child like mine, you just may bust out the homework. When we found out that we’d be homeschooling K I ordered Beast Academy for him after hearing amazing things about it. It came the day before we left for vacation and he was so excited because, “Mom, we can bring it with us!!” So we did. Bringing it out meant a few more minutes of sunshine and relative relaxation for me, so hey, do what you have to do, right?

‘Cause I mean, if you’re going to do math, why not do it by a pool surrounded by palm trees? And, when you’re in a fun atmosphere, it makes learning so much more fun! We were learning about angles, and since we didn’t have much to work with, decided we could make angles with our bodies. Hello, physical education!

Kids may not remember the vacations you bring them on when they’re young, but it sets a foundation for them for the rest of their lives. And the more often kids get brought places, the easier it is to bring them places. K even received so many compliments on his behaviour. He just can’t be cranky when there’s so much novel fun around!

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