Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Magical freedom

Here it is already... November. Wow. How did that happen?! That last post I just went ahead and published, written in July, was the last time I had enough focus on any one thing to actually write about it.

I guess this means I'm doing well. I feel better than I have felt in a long time. I do feel a little scared to write that, lest the bottom fall out of my wellness... but anyway, I have felt well enough to get entrenched in several large undertakings. These undertakings are large enough that I actually don't have time for them all! But I do love them each enough that I flit back and forth between them, not certain to which I should give priority.

Obviously, however, the kids are the first priority. That goes without saying. They have been immersed in playing Minecraft with each other and with their father. I was nervous about allowing them to play this online game, since I lifted restrictions on screen time for them about a year ago. We used to make sure that we didn't plug in until after 3:30 pm each day -- my rationale being that kids who go to school don't get to have unlimited screen time. Also, most of my homeschooling friends have pretty stringent limits on their kids' screen time. But, when Everett became passionate about computer programming, and would tell me with great delight about the next program he was going to implement when I was tucking him into bed, I wasn't going to be the gatekeeper to happiness anymore.

And, it's really amazing how much he has flourished in that time. Both kids have. This morning I surprised him with two new O'Reilly books -- Head First HTML 5 Programming and Head First Web Design. He became interested in HTML 5 back when he had first implemented his website and wanted to know how to get some of the programs he had designed in Python on his website. Back then (earlier this year), there were no books on HTML 5, and it wasn't for certain that HTML 5 would even become standard yet. We found the limited information that was available on HTML 5 at the time, and made it available for him. So, he was so excited to see that HTML 5 book there this morning. Perhaps it is a bit selfish of me, but I love seeing his enormous shining eyes and genuine smile when I've figured out just what to get to feed his desire for learning. It's a high I can't really describe.

Naturally, all of this has been trickling down. The desire to learn independently, the enthusiasm, the recognition of endless possibility. Lucy has been pursuing her own passions, as well. She has been actively participating in MIT's Scratch Community making animations, developing her drawing skills, connecting with friends, and just today, she made her first WordPress blog post. The kids are constantly chatting with each other, dreaming of new collaborative designs for Scratch or Everett's web site. Sometimes the negotiation becomes quite heated, and that's when I realize they are not only really passionate about these things they are doing, but they are developing valuable teamwork skills for the future. Lucy has even been composing stories with a local friend using chat.

Even I have been inspired by their willingness to take risks and explore technology. In a fit of frustration with my homeschooling group's current communications platform, I designed not one, but two different forums for testing -- the first one used phpBB, which was pretty easy to set up (with a tiny bit of hand-holding in the beginning from Everett) and then after wanting to learn more about forum engines, I discovered yet another one (Simple Machines Forum) and implemented it within just a few hours. I can't tell you how empowering that was. I turned some anger and frustration into a potential solution. And even if my group is not interested in using those platforms; I am still happy to have had the experience of getting to learn how to make them!

Even the challenges we have faced in computerland have been useful. Everett created a site called MyDog: Blog About Your Dog as a subdomain on his website. He figured out how to do all of it himself. He programmed it all using PHP. Not long after its release, it was found by SPAM bots. :/ What a way for a kid to learn about prescription drugs! First he started deleting the SPAM posts manually, one by one. I asked him if maybe there was a faster way to get rid of them, since there were hundreds. And just with that suggestion, he knew he had to create a search algorithm in his MySQL database to get rid of all the errant posts. At that point, he didn't know how to keep the posts from being entered onto his website in the first place, so he disabled posts to MyDog. :( For a while. He knew that he had to figure out how to enter a captcha code to eliminate bot posts, so then he implemented that. His remaining issue is that the text is too small, so it can be very hard for humans to tell what the pass code is to enter a post. Maybe he'll get that changed someday, when it seems important to him.

Because of this passion about computers, we do have trouble getting outside enough. For various reasons, we didn't make it to the park as much as we have in years previous when the weather was cooperative. Our yard is small and our house is large and comfortable. I got a basketball hoop on Craigslist, hoping the allure would create hours of sweaty fun. A skateboard and all associated safety gear has also entered our house. But alas, the new territory of creation on the internet isn't matched by the beauty of the outdoors. Yet. I know from experience that many opportunities that present themselves, sometimes just do so at the wrong time. It never ceases to amaze me that just when I think, "Oh, I guess they're just not interested in that..." I'll see them experimenting with it. Patience certainly has its rewards.

We did have a nine-day long hiatus from the computer. We took a trip to Washington DC with my parents, and it was nothing short of magical. Nine days was not nearly long enough. It is worth a blog post of its own, for sure. I'll comment simply on the relationship between the lifestyle we experienced there and our health, for now. We walked miles every day (we did not have a car), and we ate lots of wheat and vegetable oil, I am sure. And it didn't seem to affect the kids at all. It was sunny for the majority of the time, we got to breathe iodine-rich ocean air, did not have the challenges of high elevation, and were constantly moving. It was a little difficult to eat enough, I think, for the number of calories we were expending. I say that because I would be hungry upon waking (which is not normal for me), and would feel extremely nauseated if I didn't eat breakfast right away. This didn't seem to be a problem for anyone else. I have my ideas about why (hmm, what is something that I do all the time that neither my kids or husband do?).

Anyway, the hiatus just proved to stimulate creativity in all of us. Walking along the streets of Washington DC, surrounded in history, my family brainstormed about a world they would then create in Minecraft upon returning home. They wanted to re-create the impressive Metro system we took daily. They wanted to generate copies of the monuments. They came home and made a dream city, together.

Does it get any better than this?

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