Friday, May 16, 2014

Auckland's Mind Lab

This week the children had the opportunity to attend some courses at The Mind Lab in Newmarket, Auckland. These were organised by Homeschool Outings and so rather than pay the full price for the course which is well over $100 per child they obtained a school rate which made it more affordable.
I am a fantastic mum as I had to drag my sorry but out of bed at some ungodly hour (it was still dark people ... dark!) to make sure we arrived in Auckland by 9am and despite getting into the car at 7.30am we were still 5-10mins late ... Auckland motorway traffic is not for the faint hearted!!! By the way, same trip took us just 50 mins to get home not during peak hour... grrrr!
The courses ran from 9am to 1pm and unless your child was 7 (the minimum) you were not required to stay. So first stop for myself and another one of the mums that I know, was the cafĂ© that is also situated in the front of the building for that richly deserved hot chocolate. Knowing that I had a big drive ahead of me meant that I made sure not to have a drink before I drove into town ... as I didn't know if my bladder could survive the long journey. Such is the life of an over 40's Mama. After our drinks,  Mrs S and I took a walk down through the very trendy shopping streets of Newmarket and did a power shop in one store then headed back to sit on one of the many sofas around The Mind Lab. It was hard peeps ... being able to chat with a fellow adult and wander into a store without kids for a change. I took it all on the chin though.
Now back at The Mind Lab Agent Smelly was doing a science course. She started in one room (walls were glass ... tre trendy) and spent approx. 2 hours making a calculator work using a lemon, potato, wires and nails. Then they made a "wobble bot" with a little battery and some Styrofoam, and toothpicks. Apparently there was a small break for morning tea and then they headed into another area for a couple of hours to do some physics. They built some things (I am sooo technical ey?) which had cogs and then they connected them to some robotics gear to see how their parts worked. (That's AS in the apricot pants getting down to business; she's teamed up with Miss H, in the hat, who is a friend of ours).

The Fashionista at 12 had the opportunity to attend the science course or join the older group of 12-15 years olds who were doing the film making course, which she chose of course. Their 4 hour course included storyboarding, camera work, lighting techniques and green screen effects. They made a wee movie taking it in turns to take certain filming roles and also act out their story of course. The movie is going to be put together by the "teacher" and some music added, etc and then a link will be emailed to the group so they can watch it. TF could NOT stop talking about her course on the way home. She was on a natural high and apparently if real schools could learn and teach like that she would be there in a minute. (TF is in the cowboy hat filming her part, and caught me with the camera taking her picture, hence "the look" ... haha)

If you are in the Auckland area I strongly recommend you check out some of the STEM courses on offer by The Mind Lab. They have weekend and school holidays courses also. The girls are looking to go back and do a few more, the next ones will be more computer related though. They can't wait and I will get four hours to myself again ... yeah!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Loving Logic Books

Because I am so super organised (NOT!) I ran out of printer ink this week and therefore The Fashionista could not photocopy her maths pages. She just photocopies the ones she needs as she's ready for them, as there's 6 pages in each section and we often find she only needs to do one before she's saying just give me the test to do. I threw out over half a book once after I'd ripped out the unused pages so have learnt better now. 

So as I was racking my brain for what to do instead, I remembered that a few years back I purchased some logic type books from Blackboard Jungle, in NZ, so I went and pulled those out.

The first books I gave the girls to work on were Logic Links made by Mindware (educational games and toys in the US). There are different levels (age groups) for this book and we have a couple of them so they had different books/levels to work on.
"Logic Links helps kids build thinking skills as they reason and work out sequencing puzzles, using 48 coloured chips (included) to help them visually organise their thinking. This book includes 100 puzzles."
For instance how this book works is like this
1. take a green, orange and yellow chip.
2. the orange and yellow chip don't touch.
3. the green chip is to the left of the orange chip.

The child lines the chips up how they think is correct. They of course get longer with more chips as they progress.
Agent Smelly just LOVED these and did these for a lot longer than her sister. In fact she has finished a third of the puzzles in her book already - I should point out that she is actually doing a book that is deemed for younger children than her age.  The harder puzzles that The Fashionista worked on had two lines with up to 8 discs. I had to help on occasion and between us I had to refer to the answers in the back a couple of times ... and I am a lot older than the proposed age guide!
Once they had enough of the Logic Links I gave them some Noodlers books (I also have a green one) which were also produced by Mindware. I see on their website that they now have them as a game with cards to work on. This would be far better than the books as the crease in the middle means the sticks sometimes roll off the page which is a little frustrating. The books can still be ordered from Blackboard Jungle who are run by just the most lovely and helpful people. They stock a lot of other schooling supplies also.

"Each puzzle contains a field of shapes; your job is to separate each icon into its own area using the wooden sticks. The catch? The instructions tell you how many - or how few sticks you get to use. These books each includes 44 spatial-reasoning puzzles and 8 sticks."

They are for 8 - adult. TF really loved these books but AS found them a little hard until she got the hang of them with some help from big sister.

Even though I thought they'd do a few in each book and that would be that, they spent over two hours on these books, and they didn't even stop to eat lunch just kept working and eating at the same time. It was ever so peaceful and what went from a "oh no what will they do now" became a magical learning afternoon.

So if you have children like mine who love puzzles, then these books are a great addition to the home library or games cupboard. These would even be great at the bach (holiday home).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wandering at Waitomo

We started term 2 with an outing organised by a lady who runs a homeschool group called Homeschool Outings - Auckland Area.
We went to the fabulous Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms which is about 120kms from our place, mostly back country so only 1 1/2 hours away.  

Ready to go for the cave tour
The kids were pretty excited about the day and there was a HUGE turn out by homeschoolers (we had to pre-book and pay). The group was broken down into two as when you leave the caves the exit is via the stream by way of a boat. Your guide holds onto a series of ropes and pulls the boat along through the darkened cave. You are asked to be very quiet so that you don't disturb the very many glow worms on the cave ceiling.
Before you enter the caves via the cave entrance up stairs, you are of course asked not to touch any of the walls, stalactites or stalagmites and photography is strictly forbidden. The caves have been changed a bit to accommodate tourists, there is lighting throughout and where you walk there is a tiled path (about two large tiles wide) and whilst I understand it's to keep tourists off the cave floors and walls, and strictly on the track it seems odd and a bit slick if that makes sense.


Outside the glow worm cave - you leave the caves via boat.

Looking at the stream that leads into the lower caves.

After the tour which only takes about 40 minutes, we went and had a picnic morning tea/lunch with a h/s friend of mine that I had arranged to meet up with on the tour. It was the first time my girls and her three boys (eldest two are of similar age) had actually had free time together and they had a ball playing tag and pretending to throw each other into the nearby stream, in between eating lunch. My girls don't get a lot of time playing with just boys of their age and so it was rather funny afterwards to listen to them discussing how the boys were actually more fun than they thought boys would be ... haha They are even looking forward to catching up with them again at future events despite the good natured ribbing from siblings on both sides re "crushes" on each other. All quite funny! 

After that our friends took off for another cave tour which we hadn't bought tickets for (kind of wish we had now as I have since heard that that one was better than the first) and we headed off for a hike to the look out.

View from a look out, of Waitomo

View of the look out - third tree from the right there is a wooden platform in front.

There were a LOAD of steps up the hills so I heroically offered to stay down below at a point and take a photo of the girls when they reached the top -- I am thoughtful like that! It also started to rain about that time (I hid under the overhang of a big rock) and basically didn't stop for the rest of the day, not that deterred us from anything and we still had a great day.

View of Waitomo village from the look out.
We then headed into the Discovery Centre in nearby Waitomo and saw some films on the glow worms and learnt a bit more about the history of the area. 

The Historic Waitomo Hotel / Motel

We drove up and into the circular driveway of the historic Waitomo Hotel but didn't stop despite Agent Smelly wanting to have a meal there!

Petting German Angora Rabbits at Roselands

We then visited Roselands Restaurant Farm and Gardens because I am aware that they have a lot of angora rabbits and hold a shearing show each day and although we were later than the show the little madams were keen to check the place out. It was quite a lovely place, although we didn't really wander around much due to the rain and we weren't there to see all the other animals on display. We met the most lovely lady there who was thrilled to hear that The Fashionista has an English Angora and is learning to spin wool. So she was keen to show her how to spin the rabbit fur onto some merino (it is too fine to spin pure and also too hot to wear if pure) and then gave us a list of contacts in case we want to show Melody.

The side of a shop in the town of nearby Otorohanga

We then stopped in the nearby town of Otorohanga for hot drinks and saw this out the window. How cool does that look!
Then back home with two very happy and tired young ladies. A perfect first day of term.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Going Batty

Photo taken from Project Echo taken by Terino Pukeroa

Last year I missed out on the "Bat Tours" offered by the museum and Project Echo so when I saw them re-advertised this year I jumped at the chance.

So one Thursday evening during the last school holidays the family set out for the museum where we heard a talk given about bats, by a chap from DOC (Dept of Conservation) for about an hour.

Did you know that bats are the only native mammals found in New Zealand. There are two species, apparently there were three but one has become extinct. The chap speaking and showing us clips likes to think that they still are around somewhere but just haven't been sighted in many, many years. I like his optimism!

We then all jumped into our cars to regroup at Hammond Park for a walk to do some long-tailed bat spotting. A couple of bat detectors were handed out and then we took a walk to an area where bats are known to frequent.

It is very odd walking in near pitch black conditions through parklands (which were very bushy) over little bridges etc. We were allowed torches (with red cellophane across the lenses) but many of us chose not to turn them on so as to not alarm any wildlife.

We ended up in a clearing where we all stayed for about 30 - 45 minutes (between us seemed like forever), keeping quiet and just using the radars to try and find the bats whereabouts. Despite having the most perfect evening for it (it wasn't cold, very clear and no wind), we did not end up sighting any but we did hear them feeding on their evening snack on the bat detectors. Then everyone would get a little excited (still being quiet) and all turn in that direction to try and find the little creatures.

I found it rather difficult to suppress giggles whilst the Papa whispered comments like, "what have you gotten us into now, this guy could have lead us anywhere in the dark and we could all be murdered" or "gees I am so glad I am not at home when I could be standing in the dark in the middle of the night in the bush staring up into trees trying to find tiny flying creatures" ... and other cheeky comments.

On the walk back to our cars we were taken along another wee route where we saw loads and loads of glow worms (I originally thought someone had left their Christmas lights up as there were houses above where we walking and there were so many of them) and ended up at a creek where some young eels were playing.

It was a pretty cool evening, informative and a bit of fun being out wandering through the bush tracks at night. It was around 7pm when we finished up.

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