Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Christmas

We were so absorbed living our lives around Christmas, I didn't get to write about it then.  But the highlights included:

Getting together with my family - At Mum's place the day culminated in a game of slip-n-slide on the new lino in the sunroom.  One of the guys would push one of the kids, who would zoom to the other end of the room.  Great fun!  Miss 4 is thrilled with her 1/8 size violin, and Mr 5 loved his new excavator (pictured digging bike jumps at his Nanna's) ...

... we had Christmas dinner at my Dad's place, where Mr 5 learned to BBQ and stayed up very late to talk to a cousin in China, via Skype.  We missed a Christmas gathering here, but will get together with my husbands family soon, for a kid's pool party and play day (there are lots of cousins on this side).

Christmas Camp - each year our church has camps in several places around Australia.  We went to Bateman's Bay and had a week of fun, fellowship and ministry.  Our aim was to focus on spiritual things, not the food, accommodation, or bugs.  All of those things were great though (I loved the lack of bugs), and we heard inspiring talks and lots of testimonies of what the Lord's done in people's lives.  We met many new, lovely people, and caught up with friends we haven't seen for a long time.  It was fantastic for the kids, as we had the whole conference centre for our group, and could see the playing field and trampoline from the common rooms and cabins.  
So they had a lot of freedom at camp, as well as frequent walks to the beach.  Paradise!

Being together - it was so good having Pete on holidays, and all of us living in one room for a week.  We really miss having him home now that he's back at work.  In the week before Christmas we worked like crazy to finish the homemade gifts (dolls house and backyard road signs ... yes finally some pics!)

There's so much more to say, but that's a taste of what I've enjoyed.  We really just feel so thankful to God and blessed in the life we share, and in the hope we have for the future.  To express it all is too hard for words, but we appreciate it every single day.

Hope everyone is well, and having happy days!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Life without school

At the time of year when my friends are taking their children to orientation days, buying uniforms and savouring their last home days, I'm glad we're not on that roller coaster.  Wondering which school to enrol in (and when ... what age should they start school?)  Hoping they make nice friends and get the best teacher in the world!  With my sky-high expectations it would be a miracle to find a perfect fit, and I hate the idea that even the best situation would be a compromise (after all, it's still school).  We might have our share of wonderful days, but there'd be inevitable disappointments.  Do I sound paranoid, idealistic or pessimistic?  Perhaps I am.  I know it's possible we'd have to send the kids to school one day, we can't predict the future, but I'm so glad that for now, it's not part of the equation!

I'm not claiming the life we can give our children will be perfect, just by avoiding school.  Home schooling (or unschooling, as I'm loving right now) doesn't exempt them from life's trials, but it does give them space and time to deal with things in a loving environment.  In a way I am unashamedly sheltering them.  I'm also freeing them to spend their time as they wish and become who they are.  I believe they will grow into more secure teens and adults as a result.  They won't come to accept nastiness and bullying as the norm, they'll have friends but can choose when to be with them.  

Despite all the freedom we've enjoyed lately, school is all around us and the kids are well aware of it.  They sometimes play schools (as I did as a child).  Miss 4 says she's starting Kindergarten next year, and I told her she is lucky because she can choose her own school uniform, or choose none at all.  She wants a rainbow coloured school uniform.  She can have it!  With all the money we're not spending on some drab costume, I'll take her shopping one day to choose a few pretty dresses which she can wear anytime she likes. 

The thing Mr 5 is most proud of this year is that he has taught himself to play the guitar.  We have no talent ourselves, except a willingness to experiment, so it's not genetic.  By his request he's had no lessons.  He just persistently strums and plucks and voila, out comes a really nice sound.  It's pretty inspiring.

I'm delighted because the kids are truly best friends, and have learned mostly to get along happily with each other.  They talk about and practice team work and cooperation, and are learning to communicate respectfully when they need time apart.  In case that sounds too perfect, be assured they still have plenty of conflict and occasional childish violence.

Lately I've deliberately neglected subject based learning in favour of letting them loose with experiences, experiments, construction, creativity and nature.   This may seem unusual to people who've known me a long time, and think of me as a planner, organiser, teacher, record keeper, rule follower ... however people are busy in their own lives, and I haven't had to try and express the massive philosophical change that's been taking place inside me. 

I can't say I've got it all figured out, and it would be kind of sad if I ever did, because there are always so many possibilities to explore and new opportunities to learn.  This month I've focused way more on my own education than on the kids.  This has kept me out of their way and given them a lot of space to just BE and DO.  We're enjoying each other, loving the Lord and finding plenty to be thankful for each day.  It's a good life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Natural Learning ... our day so far

Lots of accidental, incidental learning is taking place here today.  Here's a summary of our day with some of the hidden learning interpreted, but mostly just jotted down on the run!

At breakfast, the kids talked a lot about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, making up stories as usual.  Miss 4 told us a big secret ... under our house is only dirt!  Shock horror!  Not secret passages leading to Neverland, as Mr 5 likes to tell us.

We watched Bindi the Jungle Girl on ABC 1.  It was an episode about whales.  Sparked lots of discussion (kids have something to say about everything!)  Sesame Street is back, and the kids said they don't like it but watched anyway while I had a shower.  Mr 5 went around talking about "the triangle of destiny" and the ____ (everything) of destiny.  Dah da dahhhh (insert dramatic music)!  He declared today triangle day, which had obvious implications for the toasted sandwiches we had later : >

Miss 4 got dressed (a big production of choosing) while Mr 5 played with cars.  Mr 5 is still not dressed, but today it doesn't matter.  I reminded him to brush his teeth (the rest of us just do it, because it feels better).

I set up a colourful title page in a Word document, then typed like MAD while Mr 5 told me stories about Neverland.  I learned that a mere mum has NO chance of keeping up with an exuberant child, but I tried and did't kis sto mudh (didn't miss too much).  The bonus was when I showed Mr 5 the mishmash of shorthand I'd produced, I got to tell him about editing and fixing spelling mistakes.  He was highly entertained by the abbreviations and nonsense words I had to translate back into his real words.  We ended up with 4 pages after 15 minutes!  We'll probably end up with a novel ... this came about because I decided that, after a year of telling me about his night time adventures (he apparently flies to Neverland when we're all asleep, and each day tells us about his adventures with Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys etc.), it'd be fun to record some of his tales as a keepsake of his childhood imagination.

Miss 4 was trying to inject her side of the story, but I asked her to wait for her turn.  I couldn't transcribe a dialogue!  We switched on the TV again for Behind the News (tick human society, world issues, environment etc.) then I let Mr 5  watch Peter Pan (did you guess it's his favourite movie?)  Usually they wait until mid afternoon, but it's a rainy day and I wanted time to answer emails.  After a while Miss 4 was bored with the movie, so she and I did some finger painting, rubbing wet fingers on dry paint disks rather than setting up the messy stuff.  It was still plenty of fun despite the easier clean up!

I wrote an essay in response to a friend's question about chores (I like writing, and as I'm currently not working on books, emails and blogging are a good outlet for all those words ... poor, patient friends!)  Then I spent a bit of time thinking ... why am I not writing books?  

I used to write a lot (I have between 20 and 50 unfinished stories) but stalled a couple of years ago when I wondered "What's the point?  There are already so many."  I couldn't waste my time without knowing WHY (despite the fact I waste time reading, doing number and word puzzles ... in which case just relaxing and exercising my brain are good enough reasons.  Dodgy logic?)  Then I thought, what's the point of blogging?   Self expression, encouragement, inspiring, informing ...?  These are also good reasons to write books (I write picture books and children's novels).  There's the minor factor (ha ha) that I'm with little kids for most of my waking hours, so it's hard to get a run on anything.  But maybe I'll give it another go.

While I made lunch Mr 5 looked at a book about racing cars and led a detailed discussion about their relative sizes (tick the box next to 'measurement' vocabulary).  Then the kids moved on to playing shops (handbags for sale today, tick 'money').  Next time I looked they were playing vets or doctors.  An invisible character, Invisible King, and his servants (Miss 4 and Mr 5) played in the lounge room.  The servants had to rescue slaves from the cruel king, who made them work all day with no food or drink (no psychological interpretations please, my kids are well fed and respected citizens).   The kids wrestled, played hide and seek and smelled the rain.  How do they cram so much fun into one day???

P. called to say he may have to work back tonight.  This means I won't have the car to get Miss 4 to ballet this afternoon.  She asked me not to call a taxi, as she's SOOO tired.  The truth is she loves dancing at home but finds her ballet class boring, and won't be going back next year.  At this stage she'll be 'sadly unable to make it today' (see her grin?)

Now it's 2:30pm, the kids are packing up the handbag shop while I scramble to finish this enough to publish ( I declared it a race, them tidying versus me typing) ... I wonder what we'll do next?   Miss 4 wants to do Reading Eggs on the computer, and Mr 5 wants to do boxing.  I hope he'll settle for cricket instead! 

P.S. I've won the race.  I wanted the kids to win, as the clean room was the prize I really desired.  But the kids have gone crazy and plastic coins are all over the sunroom.  Wish I had some chocolate to award myself as a consolation prize!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loving Nature

It must be Nature Week for my family.  We visited stunning beaches, coastal board walks and lagoons during our weekend away.  We returned to knee high grass and a garden fertile with flowering shrubs and insects.  Regarding the creatures which share our yard, you could say I'm a bit jumpy.  

I'm in a pickle, because I want to raise adventurous kids, and do all the fun things like camping and bushwalking with them, but I dread encounters with ants and mosquitoes.  It doesn't help that we're all sensitive to bites, which cause excessive swelling and bruising.  Anyway, I'm trying to be philosophical and use these encounters as opportunities for learning.

Our resident Blue Tongue lizard has returned to our backyard after an extended holiday, wherever it is that lizards go for a break.  The kids know to keep a safe distance away from him, as last month we watched some you tube clips of people getting too close and being told to go away.  In lizard language this is communicated by a swift nip.

On a nicer note, we found a stick insect camouflaged on the brush screen wall of bush fort (cubby house).  The kids enjoyed watching him for a while as I read about stick insects from a handy book.  They were amazed to learn stick insects can grow a new limb if one is lost.

First photo in this blog ...  Miss 4 with the stick insect in a bug catcher just before we released him back onto the cubby house wall where we found him.  See our new hanging baskets?

We have just potted 5 hanging baskets with varieties of cherry tomatoes and strawberries.  We did this in the sun room, to avoid the ants which populate our back pavers.  I am hoping that by putting the kids in charge of watering, I will give these plants a shot at survival.  My record with potted plants is atrocious, perhaps due to my reluctance to spend quality time in the garden.  Nevertheless, I am determined to let my children have the pleasure of growing delicious, fresh fruit.  They already love picking lemons for our drinks.  Citrus trees seem to be more forgiving than vegetables :)

Back to ants, busy little creatures that give me the creeps ... we've removed 3 huge bull ants or jumping jacks from the backyard this fortnight.  They live at the start of the bush trail across the road.  I discovered this when one attached itself to my leg several years ago.  Green ants are breeding in the back yard somewhere, so its a quick dash to the swings for the kids, and hanging washing is very scary for me.  The kitchens in our holiday cabins last week were both sprinkled with little black ants.  Arrrrgh!

I have a love-hate relationship with nature.  I love looking at it.  I want to be in it but hate when it hurts me.  Can we happily coexist?  Will my children continue to love nature, as they now do, or succumb to the same paralysis as me, limiting their interaction to the audio visual and behind glass variety?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holidays and home

We had a great holiday, but also came back with a greater appreciation of home!

The trip north was fairly short, but you wouldn't think so for all the "are we there yet?" comments.  'Happy Hallidays' holiday park is a couple of km from the beach, but the surf was too cold to swim in anyway.  It's totally set up to be paradise for kids (under 8s for sure, though the teenagers we saw were also having a great time with badminton, footballs etc and on the jumping pillow).  The Kidz Nook play room was a big hit!  We sometimes pay to go to smaller play centres.  The tropically warm (solar heated) pool has a beach-like wading pool, fountains and a channel under a bridge.  Mr 5 played tennis with Pete for ages while Miss 4 enjoyed the outdoor adventure playground a few steps away ... flying fox, giant jumping pillow, monkey bars etc.  There was also mini-golf which we didn't get around to, and a 'train' ride (tractor and trailer) around the site for thrill seekers.  Lots of fun right there for the taking! 

Our cabin was pretty comfortable.  We would've stayed for longer but they were booked out.  On Saturday we packed up and moved to Port Macquarie, and set about finding somewhere to stay.  We unfortunately forgot our plans to stay in a nice resort, and ended up in a dodgy cabin in our haste to resettle.  Dust, ants, dead bugs on the floor ... I'm sad to admit I'm a germ snob, and it was torture, I felt sick about being there!  The kids didn't notice, except for picking up on my phobia, and thankfully the pool was clean.  We went to the beach for a dinner picnic with a group of local friends and my brother.  Early the next morning we walked out on the break wall, on which all the rocks are individually painted.  We're now trying to design our own family rock!  Some men were paddling kayaks against the strong current through the heads, and one kept overbalancing.  Glad it wasn't me in the water ... I'm sure there'd be sharks in there just waiting for breakfast!  They made it around to the next headland before we turned back.  

We cruised around to some coastal lookouts and boardwalks, and spotted a distant whale, before heading back into town for church.  The Revival Fellowship in Port is quite small, with only a dozen or so regulars, but a carload from Coffs Harbour and one from the Central Coast, plus our little tribe, boosted their numbers nicely!  We saw a slideshow of photos from Vanuatu and our friend told us about the miracles he's seen over there in the past five years (during several trips a year to outreach) when they've prayed for people in villages, the hospital and jail.  Things like blindness healed (both a baby and an old lady), a brain damaged child restored almost back to normal, a man and lady suddenly walking after years of lameness due to back injuries, and many others.  There were baptisms, people receiving the Holy Spirit and lives changed.  I went to outreaches in Vanuatu in 2002, and to Papua New Guinea in 2001, and it brought back memories of such happy, friendly people.

After lunch we started the trip home.  It was a long trip, as we had to stop for hours because Pete was sick.  He thinks he had food poisoning, and was better by late afternoon.  The kids played in parks while he laid on a rug in the shade.  Finally then, home!  

After a holiday I always feel like my place is a luxury resort (despite the inevitable unpacking and washing).  Yesterday was recovery day.  Pete had a roster day, so he did all the washing, good man, while I did the grocery shopping and spent hours at the gardening, hardware and auto stores.  The kids were content to be home and play.  

Today I plan to work like a cyclone ... vacuum, bathroom, wash floors, more washing, kitchen, dusting.  Then I can get stuck back into my projects, and pot the plants I bought yesterday. 

P.S. One day I'll get around to posting photos, but for now you're stuck with verbose descriptions, sorry!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A relaxing home day

The kids just cruised along today, a nice break from their crazy running around lately! 

Here's what we did today:

Bindi the Jungle Girl was a highlight of the morning shows on ABC.  They also watched The Jetsons on video. 
I drew a timeline to answer Mr 5's questions (eg. Have you lived in this house forever?  Were Grandma and Grandpa born during the war?  Did they see bombs drop?)  

We finished sorting out half of the children's books, a 2 day project (yesterday they set them up all over the dining room in a bookshop first, then a library).  

Walked to a grassy spot around the corner and played frisbee ... only saw one neighbour on the walk home, so we stopped to chat while she pulled weeds from someone else's front-yard vege patch (what a sweetie).  

The kids spent an hour or two on the computer doing Reading Eggs.  They helped with each other's lessons (cooperation, cool!) and played a few games. 

The usual playing on swings, water games and cubby house out the back.

Cricket in the garage and packing for tomorrows natural learners picnic, and our holiday which starts the next day.

P. and I cooked minestrone for the first time.  Yum!

Miss 4 sang us several stories, made up as she went, using picture books as pretend song books.  

Delightful and relaxed!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Project time!

I love the energy around here at the moment!  We're all in the midst of various creative projects, and whilst it has seemed for ages like nothing will actually get finished, I can now see things coming together.  Hopefully what I'm doing will be finished by Christmas, as the biggest gifts for my kids this year will be homemade!

My projects:
•  Refurbishing a dolls house, built for me by my great uncle.  It's floor plan style and only just fits under a single bed when not in use.  Needs a new base, fresh paint and I have grand plans to make all kinds of furniture, linen, treehouse in the side yard.  Miss 4 has had my Strawberry Shortcake dolls for a year already, but this will be their new home.
•  I've almost finished making a highchair for Miss 4's cabbage patch doll.  This isn't a secret as she's watched me do most of the work.  Today she said she wants two highchairs.  Ha ha!
•  My husband doesn't want the fridge to be scratched by magnetic toys, and the magnetic  whiteboard easel is pretty small ...  so I'm looking for the right piece of metal to attach to the end of the breakfast bar.  Then we can have fun with magnetic letters, words, play scenes and a fantastic motorised set of cogs.
•  Making a chalkboard for the cubby/ bush fort we made earlier this year.  While we're at it, I also want to repaint the slippery slide, paint a compass on the floor and pot some flowers.
•  Use offcuts of wood to make signs for the yard ... a black and yellow 'work site' sign for Mr 5's gravel quarry, set of traffic lights, stop sign etc, orchard signs for the citrus trees.
•  Extend Mr 5's wooden garage (made by my brother), to have a multi-storey car park.  This may be beyond my engineering capabilities and patience, we'll see!

What Mr 5 is up to:
•  Making a papier mache landscape, either for dinosaurs, animals or soldiers, depending what he's thinking about at the time.
•  Cutting up lots of pictures which he will apparently then make into wrapping paper for Daddy's present.
•  Playing as much cricket as possible, in the garage or at the park.  He's always been terrific at bowling and batting, but I help him practice catching.
•  Drumming, strumming and singing!  Playing for hours with matchbox cars on his car carpet, building with lego.
•  Telling us ever more elaborate tales about his trips to Neverland (he's hooked on Peter Pan).

Miss 4 has been:
•  Making books with me, then reading them aloud to Daddy.  Joyfully doing Reading Eggs lessons on the computer.
•  Colouring in and drawing, cutting out pictures and telling stories about them, playing with Polly Pocket dolls, making creatures with playdough.
•  Giving us live action replays of her ballet class.  Brushing her hair, carefully choosing outfits to wear, arranging things on her dressing table.  

That's some of what we've been doing in recent days.  There are no school routines at present.  Our educational methods seem to mostly fit into what's called Natural Learning.  We weren't very schoolish to begin with, so it's been a subtle change.  I love strewing (leaving material of interest around for our children to discover, as defined by Sandra Dodd).   Mr 5 and Miss 4 are still as keen as ever about everything to do with reading, art, music, maths, but less interested in writing.  They love everything related to science, the world and people.  Mr 5 was today telling me information about the earth's core, before he asked me about space.  

Life's good!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thinking time ...

We've had an abundance of social time this past few weeks, despite the fact that there are numerous people we haven't seen for ages (and would like to).  Adding trips to the pool and beach into the mix has been a treat.  I love the arrival of warm weather!  Miss 4 and Mr 5 are apparently loving it too and seem to have endless energy.  

In the moments when nobody needs my attention (rare) I've spent a lot of time thinking and reading ... about discipline, natural learning and intelligence, mostly.  It all comes back to an intense need to believe I'm raising my children in the best way I can (I say 'I' because even though P. and I are happily in it together, it's me who complicates everything with over-thinking ... P. just gets on with things and doesn't seem to get caught up in the why, how and what ifs of life).  How to raise children, or even how to live my own life, involves so many variables, and the choices are so many, that my head spins until I realise ... I've once again overcomplicated everything.  I need to simplify things and decide on what really matters.  I'm so grateful that I have a compass in life, which is my faith in God and an eternal purpose.

Now that I've realised Natural Learning isn't just about sitting under trees all day looking for bugs (excuse my naivety, although that could be fun if I didn't feel so creepy about crawly things), I'm enjoying the even greater freedom we have.  Raising children without school is liberating for a start!  And my approach to homeschooling was pretty eclectic anyway (relaxed, tidal, etc.) so Natural Learning is really just another small step away from conventional, packaged education, and diving further into interest-based, intrinsically motivated learning.  

The philosophical jump related to accepting any label however, is one that's involved a lot of thinking for me.  Particularly one so different to my educational experience and teacher training as Natural Learning.  Am I rejecting the validity of textbooks, flashcards and phonics programs?  No, we'll use them when they seem like the best way or anytime the children want to (I think Miss 4, like me, will actually enjoy written assignments, whereas Mr 5 is inclined to be workbook-phobic).  I will continue to have ideas of what I think my children need to know next in maths.  It's not so much about rejecting anything schoolish, but more about elevating the status of 'unlabeled learning', celebrating accomplishments that don't fit neatly in a curriculum box, and having room to explore outside grades, subjects and year levels.  Maybe the added sense of freedom comes from confirming my belief that we, children included, learn all the time, sometimes purposefully, randomly or deliberately, perhaps by accident, through play, imitation or by watching a TV program.  We might seem to take dolly steps for ages then go ahead in leaps and bounds, but in fact what we did during the quiet time paved the way for the noticeable growth spurt.

I feel like this is a big sigh of relief.  I don't have to make my children tick all the boxes.  We can enjoy their asynchronous development rather than fear it.  I'm still working out what this means in terms of routines.  A sense of rhythm is still evident in our days even though we don't call any particular time 'school time' (unless we're playing schools, which the children actually love in small doses!)  Next year I'll have to work out how to articulate what we do and why, for the purpose of registration.  I'm looking forward to it ... just like a uni assignment, but with more heart!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Motivation and balance

I've been pondering the importance of 'balance' in our lifelong learning process.  We're delighted to be keeping our kids out of school for the long haul, god willing, so I want to lay a foundation now that is sustainable for all of us.  I want my children to love learning AND develop the skills to pursue whatever goals they set.  I want to be there with the right resources at the right time, but also to know when to keep out of the way and let things unfold at their own pace.  Ideally there will be abundant curiosity, times of peace and times of excited activity, not too much conflict, plenty of love and acceptance, and freedom to pursue individual goals (including fossil collecting, drumming or designing fashion for dolls!)

I like to plant seeds of interest (mostly in science and HSIE) by borrowing a stack of books and some DVDs.  Mammals, for example, is a topic we recently explored together and greatly enjoyed (it sparked much interest about predators and prey).  We share a LOT of books, gather relevant games and toys, and sometimes the kids put together a lapbook to share what they've learned with others.  Often it spills over into art and music (they loved the Don Spencer songs like 'Dig like a wombat')  DD4 loves workbooks and often asks to do 'schoolwork'.  Then I include some textbook pages or writing in her box of possibilities.  DS5 is the opposite.  He usually hates activity books if they require his pencil to move (it's ok if I'm scribing for him), but he likes tracing and drawing when he's in the mood.  He does spelling by arranging letter tiles, or typing on the computer.  He loves books and flashcards, computer games and telling stories.  How lucky is he, when I compare his freedom to the regimentation and demands of a regular school!

I read somewhere that children know what they need and will ask for it, and I'm starting to trust that this is the case.  They ask me fascinating questions, and will learn  more than enough by pursuing these trains of inquiry.  I'm considering whether we are actually unschoolers (need to read more about it).  Not sure, but I can relate to what I've read about Natural Learning.  I don't choose to use any particular curriculum ... however I have read the scope and sequence/ curriculum frameworks of most states and some from overseas, and always feel reassured that my children are covering (and exceeding) the recommended areas for K/1 (even if they play with textbooks rather than finish them the way I'd usually expect of my students ... because the school expects me to expect that!)

Here's something I found about 'Intrinsic Motivation'.  I believe and hope it's what my children will develop as a result of being free to be kids, active in building their own education.  I found it on   ...

Definition: Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money or grades.

The motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the task itself or from the sense of satisfaction in completing or even working on a task.  An intrinsically motivated person will work on a solution to a problem because the challenge of finding a solution is provides a sense of pleasure. 

Intrinsic motivation does not mean, however, that a person will not seek rewards. It just means that such external rewards are not enough to keep a person motivated. An intrinsically motivated student, for example, may want to get a good grade on an assignment, but if the assignment does not interest that student, the possibility of a good grade is not enough to maintain that student's motivation to put any effort into the project.

Enough for today ... I still have plenty to learn about all of this.  I'm glad I started early (before we had kids) and as much as I want ALL the answers NOW, there's no rush.  We're happy and blessed with all we need for today.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Change of pace

The public school holidays coincided with our readiness for a break from routine, so I told the kids we were having a few weeks break.  Since we were already floating along at low tide, it wasn't a huge change, but we've taken the opportunity to be more spontaneous. 

 Some of the highlights of the past two weeks have been:

*  First time for both kids jumping on bungee trampolines
*  First camel and pony rides
*  First ferry ride to visit Grandparents in Stockton
*  Buying an almost new RAV4, our ticket to adventure
*  Playing in the kids pool at Merewether Baths
*  Fun at Nanna's house with little friends
*  Putt putt golf church activity
*  Trekking up the huge sand dunes at Birubi Beach
*  Paddling in the shallows at Boat Harbour
*  Swinging for hours and playing totem tennis

In between playing chauffeur, referee, chef and housemaid, I've managed to do some sorting of all our school resources (a huge task).  I've made a few changes in the sunroom (aka dining room) to better accommodate our 'school stuff'.  And I have enjoyed plenty of reading, doing a jigsaw puzzle and a new brain trainer puzzle book.

We're so tired from our holiday adventures, that I declared yesterday a pupil free day, and sent the kids out to play!  We spent an hour on ABC Reading Eggs in the afternoon, trying out some new features which are fun.

We're diving back in today.  So far I've only managed to vacuum, wash up and deal with tantrums.  I'm tempted to take stress leave, but today's plans are too much fun to abandon ... start a papier mache project (a battlefield for DS5, a fairy garden for DD4), write a story together, and listen to a CD called 'Say hello to the Orchestra'.  Here goes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Remembering 'real' school ...

I've always found teaching to be a great outlet for all kinds of creativity.  I mostly taught infants, grades 1-3, sometimes composite classes (1/2 or 2/3 ... I loved these!)  I started with casual teaching in public and private schools, followed by 2 years in an Anglican boys boarding school, then 2 years in a Christian school.  Since having children, I've done a few blocks in Christian schools, while my husband was a stay at home dad.  Now I'm glad to be a semi-retired teacher (god-willing, I'll be home for the next 12 years at least), and I love my role as a mum who teaches her own children.

When I was working, for one or two days each holiday break I'd go in and rearrange my classroom, move desks into new groups, set up a reading corner with curtains and cushions, paint window scenes related to a topic we'd be studying (windows covered in glad wrap, then painted with regular school paint).  Science centres, book displays and word walls, writing stations, computer corners, tadpoles or hermit crabs in fish tanks ... all jostled for space.  It was a lot of fun thinking of the possibilities and bringing some of them to life, sometimes with the help of a few class parents.

My school teaching days were fairly predictable, based on a timetable, school routines, bell times and subjects, assemblies etc.  Most weeks my daybook was checked by a headmaster or stage supervisor (I was once told I may NOT move the handwriting slot to a different time ... however the same boss approved many of my other wild ideas, so no hard feelings).  When I could, within the school framework I used creative license to integrate subjects into topics my students loved (like a farming unit for my Yr 2 boys, ending with an overnight excursion to a sheep station).  I set up enrichment classes for gifted students, boost groups for average students, and coached older high school teams for Tournament of Minds. 

I noticed even in the private system, that each year students were doing worse things at a younger age.  Sadly, there are media reports every day with stories of bullying, violence etc.  Other teachers in my own family have been chased with scissors, had chairs thrown at them, and younger relatives still in school have had to learn code words which mean 'get under your desk', to cope with a fellow student with violent outbursts.  My trials were thankfully more trivial, but still trying day after day ... cheeky kids, time consuming reporting systems, long hours planning and programming, and on a lighter note, being a ballerina trying to coach rugby!
Since we decided to homeschool our children almost 2 years ago, I have been 'deschooling' myself.  My teaching experience has given me lots of ideas, and it can be hard to choose from the huge menu of options we have on offer.  There are boundaries which I am now free to cross and baggage which I no longer need.  And although I was lucky to have some classes as small as 17, 20 and 12 students, having only 2 allows for truly personalised instruction.   Every teacher's dream, I think!

So this is kind of a 'where I came from' post.  Next I'll try and write a 'where we're heading' message, one about 'why' and 'how we might get there'!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Freestyle school

Mostly, people think they know what a school day involves.  When you tell someone you're home schooling your children, they want to know what you DO with your kids.  All day, every day?

At our place, we live, we laugh and we learn (thanks, Diana Waring, for this trio) pretty much all the time and anywhere.  We do 'school' for only a few hours a week.  We read voraciously, talk, sing and tell stories, draw, write and trace, we play a lot! 

We are eclectic homeschoolers, as I choose bits of many methods, and odd pages of this and that resource which suit us at the time.  I now like to say that we are Tidal Homeschoolers (thanks, Melissa Wiley for your website, and Kez for telling me about it), which explains the way we go with the flow of life and the seasons.  

At high tide, we have done unit studies on Rainbows, Mammals, The Five Senses ... we do lots of science and art, and make lapbooks, posters or books.  We play the trading game with Base 1o blocks, learn new phonograms in phonics (ar, ee, ir, er, ur, ear and wor this month) and listen to the kids read (often for chocolate).  We explore topics using library books, documentaries and cartoons (many a time has been when George the monkey or Charlie and Lola have been playing with the same topic as us!).  We clock up hours on computer programs like Mathletics, Starfall, Reading Eggs and Intrepica.  We read Bible stories, cook, do craft, painting, sewing, make music and dance.  Amongst this we go to homeschool excursions, play dates and fellowship.  These are fun-filled, busy days.  We buzz with energy and ideas, asking questions and looking for answers.  

At low tide, we sometimes stay in pyjamas until mid morning.  The kids unpack all the books from the shelves, then sing and read their way through a pile as tall as they are.  I read them another stack.  They play doctors, vets or shops, and put on ballet concerts for the teddies, dolls and mummy.  I clean to a serenade of drum solos, guitar jam sessions and keyboard chaos.  The kids swing, climb and scoot around the yard, watching ants and our resident blue-tongue lizard go about their business.  We thread beads, listen to CDs, surf the net and play with play dough.  The kids build new worlds with lego, train sets, blocks and boxes, or make blanket cubbies.  We play snakes and ladders, Uno, Mastermind and Monopoly.  A game of 'I went camping and in the boot I put ...' is full of crazy ideas and ends in giggles.  There are tender cuddles, dreams shared and hopes expressed.

We can't predict when the tide will be high or low, but it has a rhythm which is fun to ride.  We like the varied pace, being able to fly to infinity and beyond, then float gently back to earth.  

At present, it's low tide in regard to school work.  The workboxes have been neglected for a couple of weeks, as we've had visits with friends, excursions, swimming, gymnastics, started ballet (Miss 4) and set up a quarry in the backyard (Mr 5).  We've read a ton of library books about mammals, a steady stream of picture books, listened to Heidi and Blinky Bill on CD,  and generally enjoyed being outdoors on fragrant spring days.

Time to catch some zzz's ... it's tiring being this relaxed!

(PS. note the wry laughter in the background as I secretly recall the tantrums of over stimulated children, and the long list of spring cleaning still to be tackled ... we might go back to high tide school soon for a rest.  Does it work that way?)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A day in our life

The week so far ...
We have a couple of regular activities (ballet, gymnastics, homeschool meets), but the rest of our days are 'freestyle'.  I'll write about my approach to homeschooling another day.  The past 7 days have been busy.  We had a big shopping trip, dinner guests, a morning at the beach, church, a homeschool excursion, ballet, library, gymnastics.  Plus I was unwell and the kids took turns feeling sick or tired.  SO yesterday Miss J. (4) and Mr E. (5)  had a pyjama and play day (although they decided to get dressed eventually).  I used the time to sort out J's toys and clothes and set up this blog.

Today ... fun Friday!

5am - When P. gets up for work I normally stay asleep, but today J. wakes up and climbs in with me for a snuggle.  Eventually she goes back to sleep.
6:30 - E. climbs in next to me wide awake, and we whisper so J. can sleep.  E. talks about motorbikes and we say 10 things we love about each other.  My heart melts.
7am - J. wakes and wants to read the pile of books on my bedside table.  I open one and show her some words she recognises, then read her a paragraph.  I keep reading after she drifts away.  It's a novel about a pioneer teacher in America, married to an Indian ... the kids ask, beg and order me to get up.  J. 'plays' the keyboard.  They have juice and cereal while I drink peppermint green tea.

7:30 - Kids watch cartoons - Eloise, Curious George, Charlie and Lola, Roary the racing car.  While ABC babysits, I enjoy a shower, search my top shelf for summer clothes, get dressed, check email, put a load of washing in the machine.
8:30 - J. helps me make pancakes, E. watches me write a to do list.  Both stand on chairs and watch me cook them.  We eat ... yum!
9:15 - Kids brush teeth, make beds and dress while I help and chat with them.  E. plays the drums on keyboard while I wash the dishes and realise how loud a real drum kit (which I've agreed to buy) will be!  J. has brushed her hair (hooray) but has also used the conditioning spray on her teddy dog and unicorn and is brushing their fur.

10am - Kids watch ABC programs - Count us in, Behind the News (it's ok today) and Science Clips (electricity - current and voltage).  E. is absorbed in the show.  J. starts to play with dolls and look at books (singing about what she sees).  I write this blog entry so far and decide to let them watch one more show, 'Designers' about icecream production.

11am - We go out the back.  I peg the washing while the kids play in the cubby house, on the swing and various toys with wheels.  I wage war on ants (sorry green friends ... I love nature generally but ants bother me greatly, especially big biting ones).  Sweeping the pavers I almost hit a blue-tongue lizard.  My actions, squeal and the kids' stampede to see don't scare the lizard away as is usually the case.  I'm scared it will think I'm a tree and climb me.  We talk about a reptile show we saw a few months ago, and try to decide whether our lizard is male or female.  I finish sweeping, cautiously watching the lizard, which basks lazily.
11:30 - Out of necessity, we bake bread for the first time this year.  I have chosen an Aussie Damper recipe from the internet, and the kids take turns measuring and mixing the ingredients.  Then we divide the lump in half, and they knead then make various bread roll shapes.  While I clean the bench and floor, the kids watch the lizard and play.
12:30 - Rather late, we take time to pray.  The bread is cooked and we eat it hot.  We decide that we'll have to do this more often!  Before the kids escape, we play a game to review the 'ar' phonogram from a few weeks ago.  I get down the 'ar' jar (a jar full of word cards like start, ark, farm, marshmallow), and put 4 cards face up on the table.  I say a clue (eg. Noah built one for the animals) and the kids race to pick up the right card to answer me.  Each time they claim a card, I replace it with another from the jar, so there are always 4 to choose from.  E. isn't concentrating but J. surprises me with her many correct choices.
1pm - E. and J. are in their favourite spot, on their foldout lounges in the cubby house (it's a home made fort on stilts with a brush-screen roof for shade, and 2 walls of brush screen to enclose a corner).  I'm at the computer.  When their chatter goes quiet, I spy to see if they're up to mischief (usually involving water), but they have only hooked the dolly stroller into the swing and are playing nicely.
1:30 - E. and J. dig in the gravel out the back.  I finally have a chance to put on my makeup.  Then my mission is to find the swimming gear.  Tomorrow we are going to the heated pool for the first time this season.  
2pm - The kids have found me and tried on their swimsuits, which still fit.  I set up playdough for J., while E. does a test on Mathletics (he wants the points to make his rocket reach the top).  He does it twice.  Then J. does a phonics game on Intrepica and E. plays a farm game involving his toy tractor and playdough.

2:45 - P. arrives home from work.  The kids have a snack and sit down to watch playschool.
3:30 - I go out alone, grocery shopping to restock the house for the weekend and week to come.  While I'm out P. watches the kids ride their scooters on the front footpath and they fold and put away todays washing :)

6pm - We all unload the car and all help put the shopping away.  
6:30 - Dinner is usually earlier.  We have leftover spaghetti, but J. ends up eating cereal for dinner again (little miss fussy).  E. has icecream for dessert.
7pm - I call Uncle M. to plan tomorrow's pool adventure.  E. and J. chat and giggle on the phone.  Then teeth are brushed, pyjamas put on.  We snuggle on the lounge and I read a few library books.  P. has disappeared to get the beds ready (have a rest).  E. and J. tiptoe in to surprise him, have a rumble, then we divide and conquer for prayer and goodnight hugs.  We swap kids, say goodnight again.  
8pm - I type this blog post and try to get back my 'Comments' button. We send both kids back to bed a couple of times.  
8:30pm - The kids are asleep.  We ran late, but it's been more peaceful than last night (both had trouble falling asleep, listened to 2 CD stories each and needed lots of settling).  P. is watching footy.  Finally I finish this and wonder whether to publish it.  

Might as well!

Why 'Island'?

Many of the stories I have written (none finished or published yet) have been inspired by island dreams and ideas, or set on an island.  It's one of my 'heart words'.

Some of my favourite holidays have been on Islands ...

*  Stradbroke Island (Queensland), the stunning scene of many family holidays in my Aunty and Uncle's beach shack (the shack grew up with us, and is now their lovely home).

*  Tasmania, visited with Dad and my brothers when I was 17.  I loved the tall trees which lined scenic drives, bush walks and magical views from mountain tops.  

*  Skiathos (Greece) where I had a free holiday for a week after chaperoning a student to his family home.  What a treat!

*  Vanuatu, where we met lots of friendly locals, travelled with local church friends and I went snorkelling for the first time.

*  Papua New Guinea, one big island, where we went outreaching in Mt Hagen in the highlands.  People were so generous, friendly and eager to meet us.  I saw people carrying machetes everywhere, including children.  The potholes in back roads were as big as our minibus. 

Playing the word association game for ISLAND - isolation, escape, peace, nature, pristine, perfect, palm trees, coconuts, shipwreck, castaway, holiday, beach, treehouse ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why 'Chrysalis'?

I love words.  Chrysalis brings to mind ...

*  something plain turning into something beautiful 
*  preparing to emerge in full colour
*  being born again 
*  becoming who I was created to be
*  what's inside 

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, 
it became a BUTTERFLY.

Let your beauty be that of your inner self.  
1 Peter 3:4

What lies behind us 
And what lies before us
are small matters compared to
What lies within us.

Transforming, evolving, growing up, becoming, creating ....
order from clutter
clean house from mess
a story from a jumble of words
clarity from confusion
peace from chaos

My nickname, Butterfly, was already taken as a blog name ... and now that I've found Chrysalis I like it because it lets me play with a new word!

The many faces of me ...

(from journal Jan 2009)

I am a writer, journalist, journal-keeper, list maker ...

I am a teacher, student, researcher, bookworm ...

I am a dreamer, thinker, problem solver, mathematician, puzzler ...

I love painting abstract scenes and dreams on canvas, sketching designs for kid's rooms and cubby houses, inventing new toys, drafting house plans ...

I am a wife, sister, mother, child, friend, neighbour ...

I am an angel waiting in the wings, walking in the Spirit, ready for the invitation to meet my Lord in Heaven ...

I am an obsessive reader, library frequent flyer, bookshop browser, internet trawler ...

I am a swimmer, bike rider, hiker, dancer, climber, driver ...

On any day, I might be dreamy, smart, whimsical, sensible, cautious, imaginative, creative, forgetful ...

I am myself and I am becoming me.  

I'm glad 
to be alive 
in a place 
where I can choose 
which me to be today, 
and can 
follow my dreams.