The Auto Flusher: A Moment in {UN}Schooling

How do you homeschool a young inventor? You give him plenty of time for inventing! 

I always knew J7 was going to be a little more independent and a little more challenging to homeschool. He always has a plan. Early on I thought it was a toddler thing, but as he’s grown the challenge continues. He is always thinking about his next big invention or idea. He’s not necessarily trying to be difficult. He’s simply entrenched in his busy, thinking world. This is a kid who told me straight out, “Mommy, this is AMERICA. I can do math the way I want!”- when I told him he ought to align his math problem a little differently. He wants to have a go on his own even if it means having to back track. Most of the time though, things turn out just fine and he’s learned extra things along the way.

Now that he’s in second grade, I’ve learned a trick or two in working with this fierce independence. I try to remember that he doesn’t always have to do things my way. Academically speaking this is very true and it does carry over to other areas of life if we aren’t talking about items of safety. There are non-negotiables. However, most of  the time I try to give J7 choices along the way and to choose the “mountains I will die on” very carefully.

Such was the case one day about a month or so ago when I could see J7 needed a break from the ordinary (if a typical school day here could be called ordinary). I knew he’d be engaged in a project if I gave him permission to go and invent. And that’s just what I did. 

I gave him some parameters this time (though not always) – I told him to get to know our home LEGO NEXT kit and to go and invent something cool and show it to me. I reminded him of the available resources as I let him loose for the afternoon. That was it. The rest was up to him.

He ended up making an automatic toilet flusher like the ones in public restrooms. The ones that always seem to flush too soon and strike fear into the hearts of small children the world over. Dan had been preparing some videos to share at a First LEGO League (FLL) event and found one with a flusher. He showed it to the kids briefly- all of a couple minutes. J7 recalled the video and set out to make his own- with no instruction.

The results are in the video below. It’s only a few minutes long and worth the time to see his brain in action! It’s not a very elegant robot, but the programming is right on the mark. Listen carefully as the ultrasonic sensor waits 15 seconds after J7 gets up to say thank you and move the motor arm. And his use of the word, “basically”.

The amazing part is that he figured out how to use the ultrasonic sensor and program the wait blocks with the NXT software so that it would sense the movement and then wait before saying thank you and moving the motor. Pretty slick for age 7. He is so ready for First LEGO League!

Channeling this boy’s energy takes a lot of time. I’m excited to learn more about Project Based Homeschooling so that I can record and help him to record all this crazy learning he does. I bought the Kindle version and I’ve been pouring through it. I am happy to report we do a lot of this in our homeschool already, but it’s been exciting to learn more about facilitating all this stuff and how to record it well.

Similar Posts


  1. Heather this is really great. I follow but do not always comment, and I just wanted to say I do the same with my little inventor. I love the balance you are achieving with obedience, structure, free time and inventing. It is not always easy to do. How you are approaching It reminds me of building a fence and letting the children roam free within it. I am putting the book you referred to in my wish list.Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lori! Thanks for dropping by! I gave him the message. Thanks for the encouragement.I've been telling everyone I know about your book! Read I tell them…read!Heather

  3. You are killing me, KILLING me, I tell you!!! "Flush that toilet!" And that flash of a grin that we got for a split second as he "sat down". So cute, your little inventor! His brain is amazing, too. 😉 I was literally LOL as he was explaining how it worked. "Basically" and all of the hand gestures! He is brillant, Heather! And stinking cute!

  4. Shonda I know…the hand gestures! It's really very simple- as his hands tell you so very emphatically for the camera. hahaHe hates auto flushies so he gave it plenty of wait time.Thanks Shonda!

Comments are closed.