Thursday, August 14, 2014

What The Children Have Been Up To

Hello friends! 
The posts have been slow in appearing on this blog because our days are full of all kinds of things. I am always amazed at how quickly the summer disappears! When school was first done for the year, I was talking to some other moms, many of whom disclosed that they'd signed their kids up for various camps and anti-boredom activities at which they could deposit their restless offspring four or five afternoons a week so they could have some time to themselves. I remember thinking, "Maybe I should do that, too! My kids will likely have driven me bonkers by the end of the first week of the hols anyway. And why didn't I do this last year? These same moms told me to do it last year!"

But I didn't. Not last year. Not this year. I asked the kids if they'd be interested in camps and things (I am always hopeful they will have a favorable opinion, just like I am always hopeful they will ask to be Nordic skiers for Halloween, or to have their birthday parties at McDonalds instead of our ill-equipped house).

"No," they told me. "We want to go to museums and parks and swim and do stuff with you!"

"Bah. Foiled." I said to myself. 

But here we are, with only about 3 weeks left of the hols and, honestly, we wouldn't have had time for those camps anyway, we were so busy. I'm looking back over the past two-plus months and marveling at how my girls have just loved being home and directing their own summer. I'm still slightly envious of other moms who have their kids registered in various camps for weeks on end, because they must be so relaxed and sane and have lovely manicured toenails and healthy dinners prepared every single night. But my kids chose differently and, apart from the occasional, "I'm bored, Mom!" have not complained about the lack of things to do. 

So what exactly have we been up to?

Birthday parties, for one. It's been like a Festival of Birthdays in our home and the kids have loved all the prep work. We're done with Jenna's (I know- I owe you all the birthday posts), and she's now working on her thank-you cards,

while Emily has just begun the invitations for her party,

while conducting various experiments to shortlist the activities she wants to include.

I love that the kids are now old enough to research their own party ideas - and that the research comes not only from the internet but also from good old-fashioned books checked out from the library. 

Kate, whose birthday party is now all wrapped up, has been making mail and books for Bunny, while her sisters work on their cards. This way, everyone has some papercrafting to do and she doesn't feel left out of all the fun.

We've also been swimming a lot. And visiting museums and catching up on local and national history, which I know shockingly little of; even after living here all these years, the US still feels a little like a stranger to me. So I've been enjoying all the learning as well. 

It's funny how each summer has a distinct theme to its adventures. Some years back, it was the zoo - we spent hours and days picnicking at the zoo and repetitively feeding the same poor baby animals. The next year it was swimming - we'd just discovered the outdoor water park across the street and were there practically every non-rainy day. The year after, it was vacationing out of town. This year, it's museums-and-history. I love that I never know what the flavor of each summer is, only that it's almost certain to be completely different from that of previous years.

So quite a lot of playing in our days. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I should at least attempt to sneak in some education - you know, while we're, say, mindlessly feeding fish at the park, I could engage the kids in a discussion on, er... I dunno... the different classes of vertebrate animals, or the interference of wavefronts. Then I smack myself; I may have once been a teacher, but I am now a mother, and mothers must know when to let life be, and allow the learning to happen in its own course.

Earlier this week, I got to witness just that. 

Emily wanted to make an access-card reader for the playroom door. Nothing truly electronic (i.e. with logic and stuff like that) - just something that buzzed when you swiped a card. So we brainstormed and sketched that first circuit in blue below. Then we got our components together and built the circuit. It worked, but intermittently. The theory was sound, the design was feasible but our materials were not cooperating. It was a success, but not an overwhelmingly successful success. 

Then Jenna came by and wanted to help, so we explained what we were doing. She ran off and returned with the idea on the right, below, and I stood there flabbergasted while this not-quite-eight-year-old explained how to improve on a circuit her ex-Physics teacher mother had co-designed. 

So we took the first circuit apart and made Jenna's version.
And it worked, as she said it would. 
This is the card reader, which is just a band-aid box with aluminum foil in strategic places,

like the slot opening

and the base of the box. Because the box was too deep for the credit card, we raised its floor by making a foil-covered platform and inserting that into the box. 

You can see that through the slot.

This is the credit card, which has a strip of aluminum foil

that wraps around its edge. This is important.

The circuit itself is a simple series circuit of batteries, a buzzer, LED (or bulb, if you have that) and the card reader, which acts as a switch. Here is the schematic diagram. The shaded bits are surfaces covered in aluminum foil for electrical contact. Note that the circuit is open in the diagram below, because even after inserting the foil platform into the box, there is still a gap between it and the contact to which the LED is attached.

Here's the circuit diagram. 

The credit card, upon being inserted, makes contact with both the foil-wrapped opening of the box and the foil-covered platform below, closing the circuit and making the buzzer sound and the LED light up. 

Everyone immediately had to have their own credit card.

And then the girls ran off to rig up the contraption to the playroom door,

and install the necessary signs so as to justify the need for this device in the first place.

Behold this dreadful photograph showing the LED lit when the card is in the reader,

which is useless, so here is a video also:

Well, oooooooooobviously I am relieved that my children are dabbling in electric circuits! Phew. For a moment there, I was afraid that wondered if they would only ever play with Lego or Elsa and Anna dolls or Crayola markers or Rainbow Looms. Or - worse - leapfrog straight into the world of electronics without the slightest understanding of circuitry. Don't get me wrong - I think electronics is great fun. For kids and adults and everyone else in between. But it doesn't sit well with me that kids these days are being wooed towards ICs and computer-programmable systems without also being introduced to the basics that are circuits and logic. They can build robots from an instruction manual, yes, but can they also design a card reader using a band-aid box and kitchen foil? 

I'll get off my soapbox now. Please be reassured that my children do not act like electrical engineers as a habit. 99.9% of the time, they do normal kid stuff like climb trees and ride bikes and have dance recitals and play imaginary friend games like Bearaby-Bunny-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-Dough and color computer printouts from the latest Disney movie. Once in a blue moon, however, their minds engage in a totally different way and out pops some wonderful creation that just floors me. Like this one. 

I watch them, then, fearlessly trying. Sometimes they succeed right away and sometimes they get set back for quite a while. Both of which translate to learning. Which they seem to be doing just fine without me interfering. Which makes the mother in me dab her eyes, and the teacher in me punch her fist in the air. Sniff. Whoo!


  1. If there is a LIKE button that I can hit more than once, i will hit 1000times!

  2. ;-)
    We were always too busy for summer camp too.

  3. I know it sounds nice to have 4-5 afternoons a week to yourself, but really those other moms are missing out on exactly what you've had. They will become precious memories, and before you know it, your children will be graduating from high school and you'll have all the time you want - for yourself. You picked the better road. Good for you :) Karen

  4. What wonderful memories you are making with your girls! I think it's awesome that you're giving them yourself and your time rather than sending them off to camp or somewhere. They'll treasure those memories when they get older... and so will you. Way to go, Mom!

    I am amazed at their card swiper thingy!!!! (And loved the "Turn back or DIE :) " )

  5. Could you sometime do a post on the activities that you have done with your kids to help them understand how to design a circuit at only 7 years old? Or is that genetic? :) Thanks for sharing your adventures - I always enjoy reading.

    1. Yes! Someday I will. Do a post, I mean. Or at least aim to. I don't know if it's genetic or not. I taught them just two rules for circuitry:
      (i)The necklace rule. If it's a complete necklace, it will work. Apparently, girls understand this.
      (ii) The Anti-Short-Circuit rule: do not ever connect the + and - terminals of a battery together without something that does something fancy (light bulb, buzzer, etc.) in between.

      Even 4 year olds can understand that. Everything else we add on when the opportunity presents itself.

  6. Your card reader is awesome! I only dabbled in circuits very briefly in sixth grade, but I want to explore this with my kids.

    We had two trips this summer plus five days of half day soccer camp for Emma and Johnny (my attempt to combat our tragically non-athletic genes, and a somewhat successful on, thankfully). The summer flew by, and I am sad that school is starting on Tuesday. Too soon!

  7. That is SO cool! My favourite ever present was a shoe box my dad put together for me - a big battery, crocodile clips, paperclip switches, buzzer, a light....and that was it. We spent a lot of time with that shoe box. Actually, I still have it, though the battery won't work anymore.

  8. I'm speachless! This is just so amazingly cool. Makes me feel bad for all the times I put on the TV so I can go play computer games for half an hour, when I obviously should be doing stuff like this with them.

  9. I hate this new trick of the Google family: it gobbles up the comments if you've written before signing in. It was a long eulogy too, so perhaps just as well. Let me be more precise: you're such a great mom for teaching kids to use that precious tool: their brains!

  10. This buzzer is incredible! I love the whole project, from design to implemenation!


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