Life has been going great for our family. I couldn’t be happier! We’ve all struck a wonderful balance of life, work, kids, school, fitness, friends, parties and creative projects.
But the most significant change to our routine is that we’ve amped up our involvement in our children’s learning and development, by extending what they learn in school. The only down side is that it’s really time consuming, but it’s fun and we think it’s worth it :)
My 11yo recently took up an extra-curricular unit in “engineering”. I say this loosely, because its unit outline had spun a tale about Minecraft (the computer game), mining, materials, building bridges, and engineering projects… so my son was sold on it.
The unit turned out to be great. The projects were interesting and broad enough to let imaginations run wild.
One of the projects was “Knock down a small statue (made out of paper boxes) by any means, as long as it involves a chemical reaction.”
Inspired by Mythbusters (the TV show), countless amounts of YouTube videos, and my husband’s help… my son came up with the idea of triggering a big, kicking leg with a small chemical reaction “trigger”.
The whole process took about 4 weeks of sketching ideas, testing, building, more testing, visits to the hardware store and lots of tweaking. We also had lots of exploding coke bottles!
Here are both my big boys testing the effectiveness of coke + mentos, coke + bicarb soda, coke + Alka-Seltzer (effervescent antacid). Then swapping the coke for vinegar. And then water.
They settled on brown vinegar and bicarb soda, because it had much more “grunt”. I’m not sure if that is a proper engineering term, or something they picked up from my husband.
So then they had to work out how much brown vinegar and bicarb soda was needed to get a good “explosion”.
They made SUCH A HORRIBLE MESS. Bicarb soda was sprinkled everywhere. They got vinegar sprayed in their hair, clothes, roof of the patio and the outdoor furniture set. They just opened packets of this and bottles of that, and tossed it on the ground so my whole backyard looked like a dump!
I literally had to hide in the house, because 1) I wanted to give them some independence, 2) I didn’t want vinegar in my clothes.
So this is the final “Knocking Things Down Machine”.
My boy set up the box statue to knock over.
I love the star shaped sunglasses.
A small bottle was filled with brown vinegar. Bicarb soda was wrapped in a little paper capsule. The capsule was popped into the bottle. The paper wrapping slowed down the reaction to give my son time to get the lid screwed on.
A bit of garden reticulation piping with a tap was screwed onto the bottle. And a balloon was attached to the end of the pipe.
The balloon portion of the contraption was placed under a lever.
The tap was opened to let the gas (and froth) blow up the balloon.
(The balloon blew up very quickly!)
The growing balloon lifted up the lever.
Other side of the lever had a string attached to it.
The lever pulled the string.
The string changed direction through a pulley.
The string pulled out a little peg – made from a texta marker.
The peg held up a swinging pendulum “leg” (the horizontal bit of wood in the photo above), with a “foot” attached to it.
The peg came out, the “leg” swung and the “foot” kicked the statue over!
This was what the whole contraption looked like from a far. Actually I think this was an earlier version because there isn’t a foot attached to the swinging leg in this photo?
It wasn’t exactly a fine example of carpentry. My husband, who helped my son considerably, was appalled by how ugly, dodgy and wobbly it was.
The thing was so big that we thought we might have had to hire a trailer to take it to school. How embarrassing!! But we managed to borrow an SUV and fit it in the trunk, phew.
Anyway, it worked! It fitted the brief. It totally knocked the socks off his teacher and classmates! My son also seemed to like the feeling of hard work that led to achievement and going “over and beyond” expectations.
You know, my 11yo is great at school, but he hadn’t really found that “spark” that made him REALLY interested in ANY subject. He just cruised along, in middle gear, preferring to play football, computer games or read a book.
But I’m quite excited to know that we might have now planted a seed of some kind. Who knows what it might lead to.
You know how you hear from highly successful or highly driven people and how they often describe a “defining moment” in their life or career. Well my hope is that as parents, we manage to fill our children’s lives with MANY of those defining moments, however subtle or outstanding.