Friday, 27 June 2014

A Week of Duality

It has been a week of:
  1. being at home and going out; and
  2. learning about two very different cultures
At Home with Chinese
We spent most of this week at home focusing on Chinese. 

As the school year is coming to a close, Tiger has to prepare for his end-of-year Chinese exam and to complete the end-of-term projects set by his Chinese teacher.

There are six projects to complete, which contribute to 20% of his yearly assessment:
1.  to draw and label various parts of the body;
2.  to construct sentences using specific words;
3.  to translate a Chinese nursery rhyme into English;

The nursery rhyme that we chose to translate is a traditional one to Chinese children, in much the same way as Jack and Jill is to a Western child.

4.  to make a greeting card based on a traditional Chinese festival and write appropriate greetings inside the card;
5.  to research and write about a traditional Chinese festival;
6.  to research and write two sets of questions and answers about some geographical aspects of China.

Tiger wanted to make a Chinese New Year card because, being a typical boy who seeks the shortest way to get a job done, he finds that the illustrations of this year's (Year of the Horse) card can be easily done by a few brush strokes so that was what he did, using a reference photo from a google search and following along using gold paint.  The result turns out alright, as seen in the red card above.  The illustration shows a combination of the year 2014 with the word 'horse' in traditional Chinese character.

We decided to look into another traditional Chinese festival for our research project.  There are so many festivals to choose from, but we decided to learn more about one that has just passed (the Dragon Boat festival) quietly in our household because I couldn't get all the ingredients together to make the rice dumplings...

Note to myself: please stay on top of the festivals!

Why the dragon boats and rice dumplings?  Many traditional Chinese festive customs have to do with actual historical accounts.  It is no different on this occasion:

Outside with the Vikings
We just managed to catch the last bit of the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum before it closed.

Although we're not officially studying the Vikings at the moment, the flexibility of homeschooling has allowed us the opportunity to visit this rare exhibition -- the first Viking exhibition in England in 30 years -- and to see for ourselves the longest Viking warship that has ever been found!

Hence, even though Vikings are not on our current schedule, we feel it is certainly worth taking a little time out to refresh our memory about what we've learnt about the Vikings (we studied them two years ago) in addition to looking at real Viking artefacts that we hadn't seen before.

While we were at the exhibition, we were treated to additional interaction with the learning coordinators, both inside the exhibition and afterwards, who provided more directions and suggestions on looking at the exhibits to the children.

I wasn't sure whether Tiger remembers what he learnt from two years ago, but he apparently does, as shown by his enthusiastic and accurate responses to the quiz at the end of the visit.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 6/24/14
  2. History & Geography Meme #123
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the relaxing week at home
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (6/28/14)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Long-Awaited Changes

Change #1: Empathy

It started with a mug of tea and a cookie.

"What's so special about them?", one may ask.  They're special because they were presented to me in the above format, after dinner one evening, by a boy, who, until very recently, is the centre of his own little universe.

To me, this small gesture represents a step towards maturity and having empathy, knowing, or at least becoming aware of, other people's needs. 

Having the dual roles of being both his mother and his primary teacher, I am very keen to make sure Tiger develops in a balanced way, both academically and as a whole human being.  Therefore I am encouraged by a number of recent developments, of which the above is one example, that indicate to me that Tiger's heart is in the right place and that he wants to do the right thing even when his ego wants to take the easy way out.  He is starting to experience moral dilemmas, which will make for a different level of conversation between us soon.

Change #2: Self-Confidence

Tiger recently discovered the joy of tree climbing.

Thumbs up from the tree top.

It's one of the those things that happens at the right time.

A year ago, Tiger was happy to watch other children climb trees while he stood safely with both feet on the ground.  One afternoon last week while we were enjoying the sunshine in the garden, I had my back turned towards him for a few moments as I was gardening when I suddenly heard an excited cry, "Look how high I can go, Mummy!"

Having discovered his own agility and a new perspective of his surroundings from the different heights of the tree, Tiger has been climbing the tree in the garden nearly every day. 

Change #3: Improved Health

Maybe I'm experiencing 'the calm before the storm', since everyone talks about the terrible upheavals caused by hormonal changes in tweens and teens, but I am rather enjoying not locking horns with my child.  Below is an actual conversation that took place a few weeks ago.

We were doing our respective work at the desk when Tiger suddenly turned to me and said with a big smile on his face, "I have calmed down now, Mummy."

Mum:  Huh?  What do you mean?
Tiger:  I mean what I just said.
Mum:  Do you mean in general, or do you mean something more specific?
Tiger:  In general.  I can feel it.
Mum:  Really?  Well, that's very good news!

A little background might help readers understand why this change is significant.

From about two years ago, Tiger's behaviour became increasingly challenging.  We thought it was one of the common parenting issues that most parents are faced with when raising young children so we dealt with it as best as we could.  It was a very difficult year.

We got a diagnosis last summer that brought both relief and agony.  Relief in the sense that we finally have a name for what we were dealing with -- it is a neurological disorder that can potentially become degenerative if left to its own devices.  No wonder Tiger's behaviour and temperament underwent a drastic change for the worse!  One can hardly blame a child for acting out on physical discomforts that he cannot understand, let alone articulate!

Agony soon followed our initial relief because the NHS's official stand on this disorder is: "Nobody knows what causes it or why it happens, and nobody can do anything about it."  Well, as far as I'm concerned, THAT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

That summer, Tortoise and I threw ourselves into intensive research as we felt we were racing against time to prevent Tiger's condition from getting worse.  In the process, I learnt much about the correlation among food, nutrition, health, environment, neuro-toxicity, gut flora, blood-brain barrier, neurology, biomedical treatments....  To cut the long story short, we eventually found the top specialist in the country, who shares my conviction that neurological damage in children can be healed and even reversed using early and intensive intervention of the right kind, to be Tiger's medical consultant.  After spending many a pleasant (and very costly) hours consulting the good doctor, and making major overhaul to our diet, we finally started to see significant improvements after six months.

As of today, Tiger's overall health has greatly improved from where it was nearly a year ago.  As a result of him becoming physically robust again, the behavioural issues and external symptoms have been reduced by 90%.  I wouldn't have believed it had I not lived through this myself.  We still have some way to go before full recovery, but compared to last summer, Tiger is a very different boy these days -- well-balanced, cooperative, healthy, happy, and whose company I am actually starting to enjoy again.

Change #4: Learning  Partners

I have read and have been told that, as children move into the Middle School years, they will or should become more independent and be able to just get on with the work that they have been assigned to do.  While Tiger is certainly very independent in many of his own studies and doesn't need me to sit with him to complete his tasks, I have noticed an increase in his wanting to work with either Tortoise or I on different projects.

Father and son drawing fighter aircrafts and dogfight scenes together.

It has been interesting for me to observe this development in Tiger, because he has only just begun to be able to work alongside others without feeling the need to dominate the direction of the project.  What I'm about to say may run counter to the current thinking, especially in the Western world, where people are trained to see dominance, aggression, and taking control as signs of leadership.  I regard those to be signs of immaturity and insecurity.  There is much value in being able to collaborate successfully and harmoniously with others, and I am very glad to see Tiger heading in the right direction in his increasing ability to consider the value of other people's input.

I am starting to think about the next academic year.  The above changes seem to point the way towards more collaborative learning in our homeschool, rather than to a situation where Tiger completes a list of assigned tasks on his own.  It will suit us well -- although that means I can't put my feet up yet -- since Tiger will need some help with taking his skills up to the next level.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Chemistry of Colours

When I think of colour, I often think of it being a physics topic, as in, the light spectrum.  I had never thought about it in terms of chemistry, until Tiger attended the Spectacular Colour Chemistry workshop at The Royal Institution.

A lot of learning was covered in the workshop so I will try to recapture some of the most salient learning points for us.  The biggest learning point, for me personally, is to start thinking about how our perception of colour depends not only on how light is reflected (everyone knows that, obviously)...

but also how changes in chemical bonding and electrons in specific atoms can result in differences in colours, as perceived by the human eye.

This requires knowing more about the elements and of the periodic table (i.e. atomic mass and charge) so I can't speak any more knowledgeably about it than in very generic terms.

It appears that we need to know the fundamentals about the periodic table after all -- mental note to myself to cover the elements at some point.

I almost broke out in cold sweat in a corner of the room when the instructor started talking about atomic structure and neutralising charges via chemical bonding.

Luckily Tiger was able to hold his own in the class by answering correctly a question thrown at him out of the blue.  The question was to show how a helium atom can be neutralised by altering its mass and charge.  I don't know how he did it, but maybe his reading very widely has something to do with it.  Besides, the question essentially is more mathematical than scientific, so perhaps the mathematical nature of the question helped.

Anyhow, he earned his right to remain in the class.  The rest of the time was pretty easygoing.  Quite a bit of time was spent discussing about the differences between natural and synthetic dyes, followed by some hands-on activities to create natural dye from pomengranates.

The value of being in a dedicated science lab (as opposed to our kitchen lab) is obvious when the children got to create synthetic dye.  It would have been very difficult for me to get hold of the chemicals required to replicate the process at home.

Funnily enough, Tiger was just asking me how food colouring, i.e. synthetic dyes, are made.  He now knows the answer, thanks to this workshop.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

What a State!

Following our recent interest in chemistry, lectures and workshops related to chemistry suddenly seem very relevant so we signed up for a whole bunch of them.

The first workshop was a short one devoted to explaining the states of matter to upper elementary-grade children.  The workshop leader explained about the differences between a physical and a chemical change and whether the reactions involved are reversible.

There were a few demonstrations on how different states occur but the coolest one was when he froze a fresh banana rock solid using liquid nitrogen.  At the end of the workshop, he poured what was left of the liquid nitrogen out onto the floor, which promptly turned into gas.

We also attended a number of chemistry-related lectures at The Royal Institution.

Lectures at the RI are always very accessible and interesting.  Of course, it helps when the demonstrations involve loud noises and explosive visuals.

The content of one of the lectures that we attended is very similar to the one shown below:

We also decided that, instead of just watching other people having fun with the experiments, we ought to try some safe-to-do-at-home ones ourselves by consulting the following books:

We made some sugar crystals by suspending a piece of cotton rope into a glass of water saturated with dissolved sugar for 24 hours;

Tiger marveled at the work of air pressure to hold the thin piece of card up under the weight of water in the jar;

and fishing ice out of water using a piece of string (and a little salt to melt the ice).

In the clip below, you can see the ice being suspended above the water by the piece of string on one side.  That's pretty cool.

To my surprise, the activity that really captured Tiger's interest involved him drawing a road map for his 'magnetic' cars (car shapes cut from paper with a paper clip attached to the back) to move around.

We attached a small, round magnet onto a ruler, then off the paper vehicles went.  Of course, one of the vehicles has got to be a tank.

I, on the other hand, was found the raisin-in-soda trick mesmerizing.

I call it 'the poor man's lava lamp'.  I literally sat at the table and watched the raisins go up and down the jar for more about 20 minutes until all the fizz was gone.  I reckon it would be a very good trick to keep a three-year-old occupied long enough for mum to have a cup of tea in peace.  I wish I had known this trick when Tiger was three years old!

While we were in the fizzy drinks isle, Tiger asked to pick up an extra bottle of diet soda to do the soda foundation experiment that we had done a few years ago.  Well, one can't say no to this simple request!  This time, we also looked into the science behind the experiment.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 6/3/14
  2. The Home Education Weekly Link Up
  3. Weekly Wrap-up: The One Before Date Week
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (6/7/14)
  5. Science Sunday - How to Make a Brain Cell Model

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