Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Metal Detectors

We've developed a unique way of schooling here. It's come about through trial and error, failure and success. We look for what works and run with it, and abandon what doesn't.  We make plans and drop them at a moments notice. Some days we just drive up and down hills, because that's the only thing we can do. Usually our kids lead the way in their learning, in the form of play. Kids are natural learners after all, and they're good at it. Our job is to introduce new concepts and material into their games and see what they pick up. Fynn is a natural born scientist in that he learns everything he possibly can about whatever he is into and runs endless experiments to discover th' truth of th' matter. 

 Well, two people gave Fynn metal detectors for Christmas, so we decided to take one of them out to our classroom and try it out. I wasn't sure if he'd be interested or not, nevertheless we packed up our gazelles (the wagons are gazelles), metal detector and a digging stick and went to th' field. 

Fynn walked around with the metal detector a little bit, but soon lost interest and we went back to playing cheetah and gazelle, which is what we usually do out here. 

 Well, one of the gazelles got bit by a cheetah and had to be taken to the gazelle hospital, which is in another field about half a mile away. So we walked. On th' way we saw something in th' snow. 

After looking at it for a bit we realized what happened. Can you tell from looking at the pictures?
What me and Fynn came up with is that a bird was eaten by a much larger bird, and it left quite a mess of blood and feathers, along with a really spectacular wing print in th' snow. And then of course a fox had to come and check out th' scene. 

But we didn't delay long, we had injured gazelles to tend to. So off through the field we went, forging our way through snow that had turned to ice. If you've never walked through eight inches of hard packed snow you don't know what you're missing. 

Finally we made it to the gazelle hospital. Fynn gave them some medicine and sat with them while they were resting. 

As they were resting i decided to grab the metal detector and see what i could find. There was a little trail nearby so i thought to walk it, thinking this would be a likely place to drop something. I walked th' trail swinging the detector in slow arcs in front of me. Fynn got curious and started following me. Soon we heard that lovely sound of detected metal. Imagine a cheap battery operated buzzer and you'll know what i'm talking about. Nevertheless Fynn was excited, he got down and started digging with his hands, even though i'd brought along a digging stick. After a minute or two he pulled up an old rusty square lid. I hadn't seen him this excited in a long time. 

By this time he was hooked and wanted to look for more things. He took th' metal detector again and started swinging it in a slow arc, like he'd seen me do. I told him i followed th' trail because people drop things and that'd be a good place to find something. He agreed and kept to it. After a while we heard that buzz again, th' one we both now love. He put down th' detector and started digging again, but found nothing. I got out th' digging stick and we took turns digging, stopping periodically to test the area with the metal detector to make sure we were in the right spot. 

We dug for nearly half an hour. Which is a long time when you're digging. At one point Fynn exclaimed, it's like we're finding a surprise, or a treasure. I started talking about going home and getting a shovel, or waiting till th' ground thawed out, but Fynn said just keep digging Papa, we're almost there. And then, and you archaeologists will know what i'm talking about, that oh so satisfying thump of th' digging stick hitting something solid, that isn't a rock. We had found metal. 

Fynn was jumping up and down with excitement. Dig it out Papa, dig it out he kept saying. What do you think it is i asked him. I don't know, dig it out and let's see. So we kept digging, but now with a target and a new ambition. To me it looked like a thick cog. We kept alternately digging and prying and realized that this thing had holes in it, and was not circular as i at first suspected. 

A few more minutes and we got th' thing out of th' ground, what ever it is. Neither one of us could figure out what it is, so we decided to keep it and do some research, ask around a bit. We'll start a box of things we find with metal detectors and save them, perhaps turn them into art work. All in all it was an exciting discovery. 

All that digging in frozen ground made us hungry, so we packed up our gazelles with gear and treasure and headed home. Back through th' snow and ice, over hills and down long streets. Lunch never tasted so good. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lessons From Dickens' Christmas Carol

 Since Fynn was very little he has been very much into Mickey's Christmas Carol and Muppets Christmas Carol during the holiday season.

 He used to dress up like Scrooge in his "best dressing gown", hat and cane, saying, "are you Hooge?" (Which meant "Look at me, I'm Scrooge!") He also loved to dress up like Gonzo as "Charles Dickens", in a scarf, sport coat and flat cap.

 For a craft, Fynn and I made a doorknocker with Goofy's face (as Jacob Marley) which became a Christmas Treasure we put on the door every year. We've also made chains of white paper (Jacob Marley's Chains), and framed in our hallway at Christmas time are the sayings, "Talk is Cheap" and "Time is Money", which can be quite puzzling if you don't know the meaning behind them. (They hang on the wall of Scrooge's Counting House in Mickey's Christmas Carol.)

 He used to also sing the "Marley and Marley" song (Muppets ) over and over again while on the swing.

 Those two movies have inspired so many conversations for us as a family. There is the theme of Scrooge "changing his ways", which is something we talk about a lot. There is also the Christmas Spirit of Giving, and "being a good friend", the Mystery element: who really are the Ghosts of Christmas? and the Fear element. Fear is a big topic in Fynn's life. He always becomes obsessed with things that scare him until he can conquer it ~ then it becomes his favorite thing.

 This year, Rowan and I made door knockers of both Jacob and Robert Marley (Muppets), and Fynn helped me turn a sheet into The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come (Muppets) and Scrooge's Tombstone. Very spooky. Fynn has been very much into "spooky" this year, and it's hard to explain, but it's in a very good way. Let me put it this way: If the Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come is in your room, who can hurt you?

 As an adult, I have to recommend reading the original story. There are parts in the book that get left out in the movies, that are wonderful, beautiful, and hilarious! But I do highly recommend also the two movies mentioned; they are beautifully done, and have influenced our lives. As someone who appreciates hand-drawn animation, Mickey's is the most beautiful on my list.

Goofy as Jacob Marley Doorknocker

Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come

Muppets Jacob Marley                                                 Happy Learning! ~Beth          

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Very Texas Thanksgiving

 A Very Texas Thanksgiving, 
"It's better than the alternative!"

Well we headed on down to Texas for Thanksgiving this year, to spend time with Rico's side of the family. It's always a tough choice to make when the two halves of your family live a thousand miles apart, but alas, even though we went to Texas earlier this year it's been a while since we've spent a holiday there. The kids really wanted to go, and it's important that they spend as much time with their far away family as they can. Nobody's getting any younger after all.

One of Fynn's favorite things to do at G.G. and Paw Paw's house, where we always stay, is run up and down the hill that is their yard. I can't tell you how many miles we ran, just going up and down this hill, dodging fire ant hills, trying to stop as close to the lake as possible without falling in. Here is Fynn in his cheetah suit blazing by. 

Fynn made a friend in Blade, the neighborhood stray cat that everyone feeds. Jumpy animals have always scared him, and this cat was a pushy one, so it was a big step for him to befriend this little feline. 

It's been a year of big changes for Fynn. One thing most folks know about people with autism is that they are reluctant to change. Fynn recognizes things he wants to change about himself and works really hard at them. Three years ago he liked dogs a little bit, then he got bit in the face by Lucky, and has spent the last three years terrified of dogs. He would scream and try to climb me like a cat climbing a tree anytime a dog got anywhere near (or not so near) him. In the photo below he is sitting next to Lucky petting him, feeling safe and secure with him. Lucky, th' dog that started it all. It took him three years to work this one out, but he did, and we are so proud of him for it.

He even made friends with Bailey and Badge next door. As he was getting over his fear of dogs he started with the big calm ones, the little dogs usually move fast and bark and jump, and that was harder for him. Well, these little guys were no exception, but Fynn made friends with them anyway. 

Rowan was a charmer as usual, and had everyone talking like Cars characters by the end of the trip. Him being Lightning McQueen, and everyone else talking like Mater mostly. He also spent a good deal of time sitting in Paw Paw's lap, just like i did when i was a child. 

Here's a collection of Maters and McQueens he made out of legos. 

 We spent a lot of time outside. Took a lot of walks. Threw things into the lake. Made "Texas" scarves out of Spanish Moss. Wandered around the neighborhoods and woods. Marveled at the apple trees that were blossoming and loosing their leaves at the same time.

 Our motto on this trip was "It's better than the alternative." Meal times were really hard for Fynn. No matter where we ate, he went crazy during meal times. So when he'd get up and run through the house, using the hallway as a racetrack, and someone mentioned him not sitting and eating with us, or his needing discipline, we laughed and said, "It's better than the alternative." The alternative being him being loud, yelling in peoples faces, kicking any chair he could reach, bouncing in his, sliding it back as far as he could (he did that too, in his walker chair, as a baby), knocking our drinks over. Running in th' hallways aint so bad after all. You can't spank a disability. So yes, we let him run.

On Thanksgiving morning we took the kids to a beach, found a truffula tree and a water moccasin skin. Played in the sand. Fynn made hills to drive imaginary cars up and down, and measured their angles. Rowan copied him. There is nothing more pleasant to an understimulated kid than sand. 

 When we got back to the house, more of the family was there. Uncle Joe and Aunt Isa had never met Rowan, and hadn't seen Fynn since he was a baby. They got along well, and everyone dealt spectacularly with Fynn's need for constant motion and his lack of social graces. And miraculously, he sat down and ate Thanksgiving dinner with us, the only meal on the whole trip that he actually sat down and ate without being disruptive. As soon as he was done he quietly got up and left. When someone remarked about his leaving the table early at least three of us laughed in unison: "It's better than the alternative!" It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

At last it came time for us to go. We were supposed to go to a Horse Boy camp, but th' rain and other factors drove us to head for home early instead. Fynn has been really into hills and Google Earth lately. He uses Google Earth like other kids use Minecraft. He makes models on there, maps out routes, labels hills and roads and makes speed limit signs and measure distances and all kinds of stuff we never knew you could do with that program. Anyway, before we'd left he mapped out a route for us to take which involved us going through Southern New Mexico over a particularly hilly section of I-25. He found the biggest hill on I-25, amidst miles and miles of hills, and wanted us to take this route. His route, however, was at least seven hours longer, so we told him we didn't have the time to go that way, but maybe some other time we could. Well, since we were missing the camp we had a couple of extra days to travel, so we asked him if he still wanted to take his route and drive over all those huge hills. Yes! he cried. And after a day of driving through an ice storm, we made it to New Mexico, and with Fynn in a near bliss state drove over all those hills he found on Google Earth. We'd never been in that part of the country, and it is Beautiful. Sometimes it's a good idea to let an eight year old plan your road trip. Thanks Fynn.

In the bathroom of one of the hotels the kids found a red heat lamp, and couldn't get enough of it.

Finally, after a day of driving through beautiful, sunny New Mexico, we ended up back in the Colorado snow, and home sweet home. Happy Holidays ya'll.