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What I learned in December

I just love Emily’s monthly review of what she’s learned each month on Chatting at the Sky – Here’s mine for December.

This December I learned…

1. That the Christmas season is often stressful for Moms as we take on the role of magic maker. One who buys perfect presents, one who hosts great parties, one who creates meaningful traditions, one who makes everyday a joyful dedication to the celebration of Jesus… often leads to one who doesn’t want to wake up in the morning. Around December 15th I stopped trying to do that and tried to become one who is thankful to God for a season dedicated to celebrating His Son. Some traditions weren’t followed (we did try to do it at least more often than my kids bathed… which isn’t saying much), I gave up any idea of well planned out meals, homeschooling was less than stellar, but we did the important things and we weren’t stressed. My girls were troopers as we forgot to read our daily advent reading from Luke 2,  as we had to cancel some advent activities, and as some days we just wrapped all day. We laughed and enjoyed all of the fun things we did do. It really reminded me that I have to simplify… more isn’t better… more causes you to have no room to reflect, to be spontaneous, to feel at peace… Jesus came in a lesser way, not the way of Kings, not the way He deserved, but maybe it’s because He knew that a lot can get lost in all the pomp and circumstance – like the whole reason.

2. The one thing we did do was have our ornament making tradition with all of our friends.  I learned that hosting doesn’t have to be perfect. Every year we put out lots of supplies and glue and sparkles and friends come over, make a donation to a cause and make ornaments. I’m a horrible cook, or at least I have no confidence in my cooking so I’m always anxious about hosting even though I love spending time with my friends. But crafting,  that I’m confident about… and this little tradition is not stressful. It’s messy, and full of yelling kids, and sitting parents, and people meeting new people over the glue dots… it really makes me so joyful. I’ve learned this December that God has given us a way, a way for us to help, to build relationships, to love one another that is different from anyone elses way and they are all good and this is mine. ornamentmaking3.  I learned of an organization in Ethiopia that brings together Orphans and Widows. I love this beautiful picture of family, a beautiful picture of those broken coming together to become whole. It is really so wonderfully simple and powerful in mission. I just wanted to share because this organization like so many others we know of is carrying the work of healing and joy out into the world, but this one is doing it in a whole new way. Please check out Bring Love in .  I really can’t get over the beauty in this. I love this paragraph explaining what they do:

Far and away the most exciting part of the work that Bring Love In does; is creating new families from widows and orphans in Ethiopia. To see a child, taken from an orphanage, once abandoned, but now in a home, with a mother who loves them, it is beautiful, and good all around for everyone-the widow who does the nurturing-the child who so desperately needs love-and the community that benefits from having strong Christian families who live here and grow up to become the future leaders that help Ethiopia move forward.

They train widows who have a love for children and help them adopt the children and then set up a household where they will become a strong Christian family raising up future leaders in Ethiopia, creating strong families in communities, and healing those who have been broken through loss. If you have any last-minute giving to do and you have a heart for the Widow and the orphan consider giving.

4. My father-in-law bought the girls “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” It is the cartoon version of the game that every adult aged 30-40 has played at some point in his/her life. We’ve watched 4 episodes already. It’s the only TV we’ve been watching. It is so awesome and the girls are already learning so much. I’ve learned that watching TV together with your kids can actually be a great bonding experience. We are usually fairly strict about TV, they always have to read first and usually for only the amount that they have read and usually I take that time to rest, read email, or just cook or clean. However this time is so precious, I may have to bend the rules. It’s only $5.99 on Amazon !Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? - The Complete Series

5. Did you know that the Mayans developed intricate roadways and that we still aren’t sure how they did it? I learned that little factoid on Carmen Sandiego… but they also said that scientists are working on developing larger more hardy fruit and that one day the fruit will be so big and help feed the world… I guess this was way before we learned of the evils of GMOs.

6. I learned that there is only one sport that I’m better at then my husband and it is ice skating… I need to capitalize on that.

7. I learned that if you continually spout the need for girls to be encouraged into engineering your family will buy your kids engineering toys.  We are going to play with them all and let you know how they are.

8. The rainbow loom has taught my kids some skills. My 6-year-old received this circle knitting loom for Christmas. She worked on it for almost 6 hours in the car and has about a foot of scarf made, she is doing an amazing job, and I’m beyond impressed. I really didn’t think she’d be able to do it. I love when my kids acquire new skills.knitting loom

9. I have been seeing a lot of talk on pinterest and on different blogs about choosing a word to have as a focus throughout the year – ie.. joy, peace, patience, adventure.  My husband and I talked about it with our girls and said we should try to come up with one together. We have never done this before so we came up with lots. My 8-year-old said, lets each think up three and put them in a jar and pick one out for each month. Brilliant! I love it when they are the ones coming up with all of the ideas.

Happy New Years!

I think EVERY kid should try this!!

I never really look too much into the links on the Google Home page… but last night something caught my eye. It said “Be a maker, a creator, an innovator. Get started now with an Hour of Code.” underneath a cool picture of Grace Hopper (an amazingly smart woman in the field of Computer science (and the Navy) when woman weren’t really in the work force never mind a man dominated field like Computer Science). My interest was piqued – I want to be a maker, creator, and innovator  (isn’t that what I’ve been learning in a Million Little Ways).  And to my pleasant surprise it is everything that I hold dear lately (well except God and my family).  In comes THE HOUR OF CODE – This week is Computer Science Education week and in honor of that they are encouraging everybody – really everybody to know that they can learn to code, they can learn to create computer programs and understand the process.
Check out this video –

But the real fun begins when the kids get to use visual coding to get an angry bird through a maze. There are 20 levels that get harder and harder… it took me a couple of tries to get through level 20! But even the youngest of kids can get through the first 3 levels and they will have so much fun!  If you want to give it a try go here for puzzle number 1 .There will be a video with a little introduction again (but don’t be put off they are goign to explain the challenge) to coding but then a young girl (yay!) will show you how to go through the challenge. When the video is over, just click the x in the upper right hand corner and you’ll see the puzzle. There is a new video for each puzzle to give you a little tutorial… to be honest the robotics kids and I just xed out of the videos quickly and tried the puzzles on our own.

Timing was perfect. I help teach a robotics class on Mondays after school and even though the class is mostly boys, my girls love to be a part of it and help. Today it was like a party for everyone. Each kid went through the coding challenges, helped each other out and laughed the whole time. They would run their program and see how they got stuck in a loop as their character spun around and around. They learned more in that hour about programming (very important in Robotics) then I had taught them previously. But don’t get me wrong this isn’t for just kids interested in robotics – this is for all kids!!!!!! My 6-year-old loved it. Any kid that plays mindcraft will love it, any kid that loves video games or apps will love it… (and to be honest these days that’s most kids – and even if you’ve stayed off technology this long, this you’ll want to see!) Programming teaches kids to break down problems into small doable parts, it teaches kids to think about the journey and the end result. It teaches kids that they are powerful, as powerful as their imaginations… please, please try it, do it with them, you’ll be amazed when they learn to do it quicker than you can. If you check it out please let me know in the comments, share it on facebook, spread the word. If you are having trouble navigating the Hour of Code website let me know and I’ll help in anyway I can.
hourofcode IMG_6430 IMG_6431(Note pictures weren’t staged… they really played for over an hour… you won’t be disappointed.)

Things I learned in November…

1. The rainbow loom can come apart and you can change the direction of the middle row. If you don’t have a child from ages 5-11 then you might not know what I’m talking about, but my once pretend and building play oriented two girls now spend their break time from homeschooling making bracelet after bracelet. We were watching one of  Ashley’s video‘s (she is the 10-year-old guru of rainbow loom bracelet making) and we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, we couldn’t get it to work. Seriously I was an engineer why can’t I do this??? Then we realized it came apart… I’m happy to say that I’m the one that figured it out and my daughters were ecstatic… but I’m not happy to say that it took me almost an hour. By the way if you are going to get your child a loom for the holidays.. get the real deal rainbow loom, my dad bought the girls the crazy loom (the one you get at toys r us) so they could each have one… it really isn’t as good and can’t do as many things, so they still take turns with the rainbow loom. Also my favorite bracelet is the nautique… it looks like chevron and I love the one my girls made.
rainbow loom bracelets2. You can make your own fonts for free… and it’s easy. Sassy Pants (age 6) is reading up a storm and I love it, but we are still doing several sight words a week. I saw that Moffat Girls (this woman is amazing!) had made a crack the code for sight words with pictures of an object of the sound of the letter (ie. apple for a, bat for b, cat for c, etc!) But I couldn’t use hers because we are working with a different set of sight words and it seemed like inserting in pictures for each letter of five words a week would be hard… but then I found Fontstruct. I created alpha code to use with the girls. The best thing is that it’s a font so I just choose it in Word and type the sight words (you have to hold the shift button down because I only made capital letters) and instantly I have a worksheet. Here is an example of our last sight word list ( sightwordbreakthecode2 ). You can download the font here. Put this file into your fonts folder – well just follow these directions. So you have to draw the font with little squares so the pictures aren’t great… the Y is a picture of a yo-yo even though it doesn’t look like it and the M is an envelope (Mail) but neither were a great choice, but what’s done is done. Remember to get the letters to print out you must have cap locks on or use the shift key. I hope you like it.

2. Girl engineers are awesome and I’m always excited about them. My husband and I have been helping at a local school that is starting a VEX robotics team. We have been having a lot of fun and I take my two girls every time. Unfortunately the whole team is boys, just perpetuating the stereotype that girls aren’t interested in engineering. However, an all girls FRC Team came with their amazing robot to show our team all of the cool things you do in robotics and it was amazing. My girls were enthralled and when they boys saw the robot do a chin up and shoot our frisbees they were amazed. It confirmed my feelings lately that encouraging girls in math, science and engineering is something very near and dear to my heart. I have to admit I was a little bit proud when my 8-year-old asked the team question after question.

3. I love the card game golf ( I learned two days ago). It’s awesome, easy to learn quick and can be played by my 6 and 8 year old. It will replace our Phase 10 days!
GolfHere is the best explanation I could find, but we played that one-eyed jacks are 0 and two-eyed jacks are 10 but they still cancel each other out. It sounds complicated but is pretty simple when you are playing. As both a teacher and an engineer I think it’s really great to play strategy games with your kids, it helps them think ahead and try and hold several factors and thoughts in their heads at once. It also helps them develop thinking patterns and strategies that may help them in other projects. (We also love blockers, checkers, connect four and blokus and we can’t wait until the get a little older and play Settlers of Cattan and Bonanza).

4. I have learned that I can’t really blog and get stuff done and this makes me sad, I’m up to hearing ideas besides staying up really late like tonight.

5. I love making presents… I learn it every month… it’s my happy place and I hope that I don’t ever stop doing it. I made this pillow and little tiny princesses for my little niece. Lil Blue Boo is so awesome and made a free print out that you can use for a box o princesses… but mine were extra tiny so they are in a minimason jar and I had to set my printer to multiple so it made the print out half the size. I also made her a shirt and a chevron L pillow. I think if I had more time this is what I’d like to do, but I’d have to figure out my own craft not copy one.
IMG_6228DSC_0617[1]DSC_0638[1]5. I learned that I really love young adult literature and the somewhat cheesy movies they inspire. Since I don’t have too much time to read nonadoption related books I listen to them on my phone while running. is an awesome Christmas gift to give to any runner’s in your family. I agree with Emily F. I think even though the actor that plays Peeta seems amazingly sweet and adorable, he was supposed to be blonde and bulky…  (Throw huge bags of flour bulky!) I did really like Catching Fire though and going with a big bunch of my friends helps.

6. Kristen Bell can sing. I loved Veronica Mars, and I will go on record saying it was the best tv show of all time. If you have room on your netflix que… give it a try you won’t be disappointed by the quick sassy humor and the thought provoking mysteries to solve. But Kristen never sang in it… but here she is in a Disney movie singing her little heart out and she pretty much rocks. And that group of girls and I will be first in line to see the Veronica Mars movie!!!!

7. There are so many amazing advent ideas out there so this might not be helpful but this year I bought Truth in the Tinsel because I’m really learning this month and the past several that my girls want my time not really for me to set up elaborate activities. It is worth the money to have someone else set it up and enjoy the time together and enjoy the Word of God together.

New Mission Out Today!

Have you joined the Engineering Spies? Girls and boys ages 4-12 and really any age will enjoy all these challenges as they solve open ended problems for their friends the spy puffs… and if that wasn’t enough each mission solved will win them a prize and notoriety. explanationwebGetting Started

Mission 1
Mission 2
Mission 3
Mission 4
Mission 5

Engineering Spy Girls

Alright Moms and Dads it’s on! I’ve developed an “engineering” virtual camp for your girls (boys too) for the summer. You can read all about it at Spy Page. Here is a quick overview. Your kids pretend to be the Engineering Spy Geniuses that help out these little Spy puffs. The puffs go out into the field doing missions and they need your kids to help with equipment or problem solving. From all the cool engineering toys for girls talk about girls being invested in the story which is why there are the Spy puffs. The kids follow the mission, take a picture, send it in and will get a spy reward and badge, as well as move up the spy rank ladder. Some of the rewards are a mission book, a mission file holder, spy IDs, decoder, and more. Every week a new mission will be posted (mission 1) and the results that are sent in will be posted on the missions complete page.  There are different requirements for older and younger spies and there are lots of resources on the sidebar about engineering and children. I’ve been thinking about this for so long, that I’m not completely sure it is all clearly laid out, so please email me with information about what you like and don’t like about the Engineering Spy Girls program. You can see all the pages on the top right side of the blog under Engineering Spy Girls.

Girls in Engineering

So I’m pretty sure that I’m going to try and make something fun on this blog for young girls to do that will give them some engineering fun. I have somethings in the works and I’ll let you know soon all about it. Until that time I wanted to talk about Goldie blox. Goldie blox is a toy developed by an engineer named Debbie Sterling who felt that while boys would try and figure things out and play with building toys, girl prefered reading. She tried to encorporate girls interest of reading with a special set of building blocks with characters to work through some engineering adventures. We are on the waiting list for the toy – all paid and just waiting for the glorious day when it’ll show up!
Then there is another awesome girls engineering toy that will be coming out soon Roominate. Its a great idea where girls will get to design the doll house, but the super cool thing is that they can wire it up with electricity. They can power things to spin, light  up or move. Check out the or flipper article to read all about it,  and hear about how girls’ access to building and mechanical toys can help spark engineering interest.

The goal of the push for girls in engineering is to level the playing field. So much of what girls are exposed to compared to what boys are exposed to creates different interests. The blue aisles in Target have legos and cars and trains – all things that attract interest in engineering principles and bulding and exploring. The pink aisles are filled with dolls and dress up toys. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great for girls to have dolls and nurture their maternal nature and their imagination with dress up toys…. but what about their engneering nature.  It’s funny I never realized how blessed I was to have an older brother. I had exposure to legos and tinker toys and video games all giving me a certain understanding of mechanical and electronic principles without even knowing that I was absorbing them. I have two girls… sometimes the pink is nauseating. It is actually an intentional choice to provide them with these other options from the gender specific girl stuff. I would be curious to see how many women engineers had older brothers or parents that were intentional about their environment – there might not be a connection, but I can’t help to think about it.  And I really want to buy this toy for my kids… its very gender neutral.

Great building toys of the past

Raising Engineers

I love math and I love science and I always have. Being an engineer is something that I knew I wanted to be since I was a freshman in high school. All of this was because my dad always did fun science things with my brother and I, he always talked about how the car worked and isn’t it cool how that bridge was made. He also always made it clear that I could be anything I wanted. Having two little girls I already see how they examine our world and decide that this is a boy thing and this is a girl thing. I never felt that way, and I want them not to feel limited or pigeon holed into something because that’s what girls do. Ironically, I am in a very female role as a stay-at-home mom and my husband works. It makes me question if that adds to their perception of female and male roles and what are girl jobs and boy jobs. My dad who was an electrician (very “manly”) also did the dishes and laundry and took care of us when we were sick. I think I grew up knowing that anyone can do whatever they need or have to do or whatever they want to do. My dad by nature of being someone interested in science would provide my brother and I with experiences in science and engineering, but also provided us with a role model of a caring parent and empathetic friend.  I want my girls to have all the options before them. This is why I am so thankful that the women’s movement has come so far and that there are so many women who work at work or work at home. Just because I made one choice doesn’t mean that I don’t want my girls to have any choice that they want to make available to them.
Od pictures

(These four pictures are old school me… seriously you can tell I had a single dad… check out the mullet.) 1 and 2. My dad would take us to fun places to learn about science. 3. My brother and I both dressed up like blown up scientists for halloween, my dad made the costume and did the make up (seriously why could he do that but not my hair?) 4. He took us to work. This is bring your daughter to work day but he would always bring home wires and meters for us to play with and take us any chance he got.

Okay so lets get off memory lane and talk about what my husband and I do today to raise engineer minded girls.  We talk engineering up. W totally do. We watch “How it’s Made” on TV, we talk about engineering as it pertains to the jobs we had in the past, and we take the girls  to Lehigh University (That’s where my husband and I both studied and got married) all the time. We probably over sell it, but in this day and age where they see pink everything, and love make-up and doing hair I want to give engineering and science in general a fair chance.

We do engineering activities. I make it a point to build things with the girls. This summer we built a kid carwash out of PVC pipe. We got the plans from which doesn’t seem to exist anymore. They had this awesome pdf with the instructions – luckily I still have the print out. Sassy Pants and I went to HomeDepot and bought the PVC and had them cut the pieces to size. We went home and built it and realized we got the wrong coupler to fit the hose, a great teachable moment – check what you buy, and went back to home depot. The project was so much fun to build, but even better to play with it. Plus the girls can take it apart and put it back together every year… a total win win win.
Kid car wash
We also try and buy toys that can spark creativity. We buy legos, and k’nex and crafting supplies. However, I think our number 1 engineering inducing activity is our big pile of recycleables and found things that we store in a box in the homeschool room. It is literally a box full of strings, twist ties, cardboard, small toys, buttons, gems, weird plastic inserts etc. It is just a box of stuff. Miss Thing (7 years old) will play in it for at least a couple of hours a week, which is amazing since she is at school for so long. We actually had to make a rule that she couldn’t knot up the furniture because she would make an “invention” and tie up things that we would eventually have to cut off because we couldn’t untie it. I think having the freedom to really see how things work and how you can combine them helps get little minds working in good ways. With that said I have noticed that Sassy pants just doesn’t think like that. She has trouble with free unstructured supplies and often leaves them to look through a book, play with Barbies, or just gets frustrated. I know that it’s not her age (5) because Miss Thing has been doing her exploring and inventing for years now, I think it’s more a function of personality and the way her brain works… but we have found some ways to reel her in. We got our k’nex at the thrift store so they didn’t have any instructions so Sassy Pants just needs  a little help figuring out how they work and the possibilities of what can be made. So if I give Sassy Pants something to play with that is open ended I play with her and try to show her a couple of ways that is can work and then see if she begins to run with it. We made this barbie doll dune buggy a couple of days ago. It was great to see them get excited about ideas and try and solve the design problems. Miss thing devised a braking system, that is it in the last picture. All of this to say that I don’t really actually want my girls to grow up and be engineers… I mean if that is what they want I’m all for it, but what I really want is for them to know that there is no limit to what they can do.